King of Nepal crushes white-collar
Dan McDougall in Kathmandu
Guardian Online, April 16, 2006
Stumbling blindly through filthy clouds
of teargas, Niraj Acharya wiped blood from his forehead as he
tripped and fell on the stony ground. Around him hundreds of other
lawyers, their black cloaks flapping in the panic, scrambled to
safety on their hands and knees, flinching at each rattle of M16
It had begun at the entrance to Kathmandu's
Supreme Court with a peaceful anti-monarchy protest led by the
Nepal Bar Association calling for the restoration of democracy
in the Himalayan kingdom. It ended with a volley of baton rounds
and a charge by the Royal Nepalese Police. This time, though,
it was different: there were no Maoist flags or crude student
banners in sight - the target of the authorities were all professionals,
advocates, doctors and academics.
'The king is targeting civil society,'
Niraj screamed. 'We are lawyers and advocates. We stand for the
law, but we are powerless against this violence.'
Then yesterday it was the turn of journalists,
protesting against a media clampdown in the Nepalese capital,
to feel the police batons as a general strike shut down much of
the nation. Kathmandu remained under a strict military curfew
last night as Nepal's absolute monarch, King Gyanendra, continued
aggressively to impose a ban on all public meetings and street
protests by pro-democracy campaigners calling for him to end his
Following a week of the worst anti-establishment
protests ever seen here, the United Nations' top human rights
official, Louise Arbour, yesterday expressed shock at the Nepalese
security forces' excessive use of force against protesters, claiming
that the UN Secretary-General feared the worst for the democracy
campaigners. Sentiment is intensively hardening against the king,
who seized power from his government 14 months ago and whose unpopularity
has been clear in eight days of demonstrations, most of which
have ended in violent street battles.
When the king took absolute control of
Nepal he claimed that he needed to stamp out political corruption
and end a Maoist insurgency that has left nearly 13,000 people
dead in the past decade. Many of the kingdom's 27 million people
at first welcomed the seizure of power. But the insurgency has
intensified and the economy has deteriorated.
At least four protesters have been shot
dead by the police. The Observer has learnt that the death toll
from the demonstrations is likely to be much higher, with eye-witness
accounts from protesters accusing the police of removing critically
wounded demonstrators from the street and taking them to army
camps for treatment or 'disposal' instead of hospitals or mortuaries.
According to the Nepalese Human Rights Alliance, at least 3,000
protesters have been loaded into police trucks in Kathmandu since
last weekend and taken to army camps and temporary detention centres
where they are held without charge. Some of those released had
been tortured, beaten or put before firing squads and threatened.
Many people are missing.
A spokesman for Amnesty International
said last night that the situation in the kingdom was grave: 'These
arrests, combined with the heightened restrictions on civil and
political rights over the past week, highlight the government's
continuing disregard for human rights.'
In the wake of the police attack on the
members of the Nepal Bar Association, The Observer visited Kathmandu's
Model Hospital, where at least 80 lawyers, all injured in the
clashes, were taken for treatment. One, Chandra Pokhrel, who was
shot in the head with a rubber bullet, said he was targeted because
he tried to stop police beating a man. 'I asked three policemen
to stop hitting an elderly man, a lawyer I knew from my old chambers,
but they wouldn't stop, they were emotionless. I'm not sure where
the old man is. As I walked away I was shot at from across the
street. I hit the ground and my face was covered in blood, then
I passed out.'
On Friday the leader of Nepal's biggest
opposition party rejected an offer by King Gyanendra to hold national
elections and unity talks to defuse the campaign against his rule,
setting the stage for further pro-democracy rallies. Girija Prasad
Koirala, a four-time Prime Minister and president of the Nepali
Congress, said time was running out for the king and urged the
international community to continue putting pressure on the monarch.
Nepal's ordinary citizens are under threat
from three sides. They live in a country where they can be lynched
by vigilantes, abducted by Maoists, 'disappeared' by government
security forces and tortured or killed by any of the three. Many
- a million so far - have fled to India rather than live in a
In the darkness outside Kalanki military
base on the outskirts of Kathmandu, the wives of missing men are
gathered in the humid gloom. 'I want my husband back,' cries Gynu.
Like the other wailing women clinging to the fence of the compound,
her voice is hoarse from her pleas, her slender hands swollen
from banging on the gates. 'What has he done? Tell me, what he