Untenable defiance

Several CPN-UML leaders, including politburo member Bamdev Gautam, held since the imposition of the emergency, were set free on Wednesday following the Supreme Court’s order on Tuesday. This is a small positive development in an otherwise glo-omy scenario under which a number of people, including Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Po-udel, are still being held for political reasons. In the first place, those politicos should have been freed together with the lifting of the emergency. Wednesday’s release presents only a part of the picture of executive behaviour towards political detainees.

There are still several others who have been re-arrested immediately after their release on court orders. Frequent cases of this defiance in recent days, followed by the activism against it by the Nepal Bar Association (NBA), prompted Chief Justice Hari Prasad Sharma to call Home Minister Dan Bahadur Shahi to his office basically to stress that the government agencies should respect the court orders. Emerging from the 30-minute meeting, a remark made by Shahi to journalists puts a big question mark over the government’s, at least the home minister’s, intention or ability to uphold the rule of law. Shahi, justifying the re-arrests contrary to the CJ’s directive, said that the SC did not mention in the orders that the released persons cannot, and therefore, should not be arrested again.

No court in the world specifies this, but this is universally understood. However, on certain occasions, when the government is armed with legally defensible charges on other counts, a case can be made for re-arrest. Those in authority have the audacity to put forward such arguments on so serious a matter because they are pretty confident that they will not be brought to book. However, the SC yesterday issued a show-cause notice to the defendants, including

Dr Tulsi Giri and Kirti Nidhi Bista, the two vice chairmen of the cabinet, in a contempt of court case against the re-arrest of student leader Rajendra Rai. What has sadly been lacking is that the judiciary has rarely fined or sentenced people in power for their defiance of its orders. This judicial weakness has done much to make the holders of executive authority so arbitrary and defiant.