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Nepal 15 October 2002

The death in detention of journalist Krishna Sen and a regime’s lies

Nepal’s security services were triumphant when they announced the arrest of pro-Maoist newspaper editor Krishna Sen and two other journalists on 20 May this year. They presented him as a top official of the rebel movement in the Kathmandu Valley.

He was arrested at his home in the Battisputali neighbourhood of the capital after several months in hiding and was the editor of the pro-Maoist Janadisha (banned when a state of emergency was declared in November last year) and former managing editor of the weekly Janadesh. He had spent two years in prison when he was released by the Supreme Court in March last year.

The authorities gave no news of Sen after his arrest. On 25 June, a Kathmandu journalist told Reporters Without Borders that Sen had died while being tortured. The news provoked a national and international outcry. But the government denied he had ever been arrested and tried to hide his death. On 4 July, the interior minister said police were searching diligently for the "Maoist leader" Sen and that there was a reward of more than US$ 30,000 for anyone who found him. A regime lie was born.

A Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) fact-finding mission went to Nepal from 3 to 8 September and heard that Sen died on 28 May, eight days after his arrest, in the interrogation room at Kathmandu’s Mahendra Police Club. His body was reportedly sent to the Birendra police hospital in Maharajgunj (near the Royal Palace), where his death was confirmed.

Versions of what happened next diverge. Some say his body was sent to the morgue at Kathmandu hospital, autopsied and then handed over to city officials for cremation on the banks of the Bagmati river. Others think the police did not ask for an autopsy and simply got rid of the body.

(JPEG) Dr Harihar Wasti, who performed an autopsy on 30 May on an unidentified body that could have been Sen’s, told Reporters Without Borders that he could not say for sure that it was Sen. "I didn’t recognise him and there was no sign of any blows to the body. Just two bullets fired at point-blank range which seemed to be the only cause of death." But the body did meet the description of Sen - 1 metre 70 tall, 70 kgs, Mongol features and a thin moustache.

Police normally take bodies to the Kathmandu hospital morgue and are responsible for photographing and establishing a body’s identity, since the forensic department does not have enough money to take photos of all corpses. In this case, the police brought the body in, asked for an autopsy and then took it away for cremation without letting doctors know who it was. Police said he had been killed by a police patrol on the night on 29-30 May at Gokrana, northeast of Kathmandu.

Nepalese human rights activists told us that the body was indeed Sen’s but that the autopsy was curtailed to conceal the fact that death was due to blows and to make it look like it was due to a "routine" clash between security forces and a Maoist suspect. The mission tried to verify if the body autopsied by Dr Wasti could have been Sen’s. The autopsy report (two pages filed as report no. 59/0150) mentions no sign of blows, simply the two bullet wounds. The shots, probably from a rifle, would therefore be understood as the cause of death, hiding the fact that they might have been fired after the person’s death to conceal that torture was the real cause.

Mission member Dr Jean Rivolet says the autopsy included a number of gaps and errors. No blood sample was taken, so it could not be said for sure whether the person was killed by bullets or died before the shots were fired. The forensic expert also failed to make tests to detect any deep bruises.

Reporters Without Borders does not doubt the good faith of the pathologist but, with the country under a state of emergency, he may have received strong pressure from the police.

Contradictions in the official version

(JPEG) Two weeks after news of Sen’s death came out, Kathmandu police chief Amar Singh Shah summoned Kishor Shrestha (photo), managing editor of the opposition weekly Jana Ashta, to discuss Sen’s disappearance. Shrestha told the Reporters Without Borders mission that the police chief said: "Sen died in detention. There are witnesses. I ask you to stop reporting on this business. It’s demoralising for my officers. (...) We didn’t know he was ill. He was in a weak state."

After this conversation, which was supposed to be secret, Shrestha published two more articles about Sen’s death. On 4 August, police forced their way into the offices of Jana Ashta and arrested Shrestha. He was taken a police station and interrogated about Sen for nearly two hours by eight officers, including a Supt. Khanal and an Inspector Mainali.

He was then put in a cell, where he met a youth, suspected of being a Maoist sympathiser, who told him he had been arrested at the same time as Sen. "I was there when they killed Sen," he said. "The police chief was there too. We were blindfolded but we heard what was happening in the room."

(JPEG) National and international protests at Sen’s reported death in detention forced the government to defend itself. On 10 July a commission of enquiry was set up, chaired by a top interior ministry official and including no independent figures. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists and leading human rights groups immediately challenged its credibility.

In early September, the commission handed to the King a report that only partly explained Sen’s "disappearance." It said it had found no trace of his arrest and simply suggested that the unidentified body autopsied on 30 May and supposedly of someone killed in a shootout may have been his.

However, several things point to Sen having been arrested by security forces.

-  The police announced his arrest and the Kathmandu Post, the Kantipur Daily and the website nepalnews.com reported this.
-  Army officers told Sen’s wife, Takama K.C., that her husband had been arrested and then handed over to police for interrogation. She herself was arrested on 27 June and freed the next day. The army also returned to her some land title deeds that had been seized when Sen had been arrested.
-  On 28 June, prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba told the press that "in time you will know the truth," hinting that he knew what had really happened.

Recommendations

To clarify this case, Reporters Without Borders calls on primer minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand, to:

-  Send to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists and Reporters Without Borders the police photographs of the body autopsied on 30 May and details of the circumstances of this person’s death.
-  Disclose the names of those who were held between 20 and 30 May at the Mahendra Police Club.
-  Present in court the two other pro-Maoist journalists (Atindra Neupane and Sangita Khadka) arrested at the same time as Sen, so that they can testify publicly about the circumstances of their arrest and detention.
-  Give the independent commission set up with the Federation of Nepalese Journalists the personnel and material resources to renew the investigation into Sen’s disappearance. Reporters Without Borders and the Damocles Network are ready to help the commission by providing it with independent international experts

Reporters Without Borders is sending this report to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, to the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as to the president of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances of the UN Commission on Human Rights.




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