Britain Set to Deport Nepalese Student Activist

Nepalese riot police drive demonstrators back down a brick-strewn street during a protest in Kalanki, Kathmandu, last week. (Photo: Brian Sokol / AFP-Getty Images)

Refugee and immigrant rights' groups in Britain have launched a campaign to save a Nepalese student activist from imminent deportation.

Arun Raj Kunwar, who has been politically active since his student days in Nepal, was detained by police at St. Mary's Police Station in Derby on Monday, April 17, while complying with instructions from the Home Office that he report monthly at the police station. The police handed him over to immigration officials and he is now currently being held at the Campsfield Immigration Removal Center awaiting forced removal to Nepal on Saturday, April 29.

Kunwar was a member of the Nepalese Students Union.

Since 1991 he also has been a member of the Nepal Congress Party. While involved in student politics he made friends with other activists from the Communist Party of Nepal (C.P.N.). Although he was not a member of the C.P.N., Kunwar's association with members of that party made him a target of harassment and persecution at the hands of Nepalese security agents.

On Nov. 21, 1999, he was arrested on suspicion of being involved with the C.P.N. and held for four days at a police station in Nepal. During his incarceration, he received severe beatings from the police. When he was released, he continued his involvement with student politics. On Nov. 8, 2001, Kunwar helped organize a pro-democracy demonstration and gave a speech. The police descended on the demonstrators and, using batons, broke up the demonstration and arrested a number of the protestors.

Sajin Sharma, a campaigner for the rights of refugees and immigrants with the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (N.C.A.D.C.) says, "The weekly newspaper, Awaaz (June 6, 2003), reports that a few months after the demonstration, Arun Raj's friend, fellow activist and C.P.N member, Depak Devkota, was arrested. Events took an even more sinister turn when two more friends of Arun Raj, Prit Kumar Moktan and Bhupendra Timalsina, who were also C.P.N. members, were arrested in April 2003. A week later, according to the Kathmandu Post (April 28, 2003), their decapitated bodies were found."

Kunwar, fearing he too would be arrested, fled and sought political asylum in Britain in January 2002. Awaaz (June 6, 2003) reports that the police in Nepal are still looking for him and that he will be arrested if he returns to Nepal. In 2002, the then-elected prime minister dissolved parliament; scheduled elections were postponed and a series of prime ministers were appointed and sacked by the king.

Four years after Kunwar fled Nepal, there is now a risk that he is going to be pushed back into the hands of Nepalese security agents.

The move to deport Kunwar comes at a time of increasing instability in Nepal. On the pretext of quashing Maoist insurgents, who now control 70 percent of the country, King Gyanendra unilaterally declared a "state of emergency" early last year, closing down parliament and assuming all executive powers.

In an attempt to stem the current demonstrations, the Nepalese government imposed an 18-hour curfew, from 2:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. last week. Also last week, in a neighborhood called Kalanki, security forces fired on a crowd that had gathered in defiance of the curfew, killing three people and injuring as many as 100. Two of the dead appear to have been shot in the head by live bullets.

The United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Katmandu says they had been blocked from routine monitoring of the demonstrations. The International Committee of the Red Cross and foreign diplomats were denied permission to move through the city during curfew. Ambulances also were restricted in any rescue efforts and the government refused to issue curfew passes to journalists.

"Arun Raj Kunwar must stay," says Sajin Sharma. "Nepal is politically very unstable and groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been documenting abuses by government forces for some years. Members of the C.P.N. were especially at risk."

United Nations human rights experts say they are gravely concerned at the escalating wave of violence surrounding pro-democracy demonstrations throughout Nepal in recent days.

Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Hina Jilani, special representative of the secretary general on human rights defenders; Ambeyi Ligabo, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Manfred Nowak, special rapporteur on torture; and Leïla Zerrougui, chairperson-rapporteur of the working group on arbitrary detention said:

"While we call upon demonstrators to exercise their right to protest peacefully, we strongly condemn the excessive and deadly use of force by members of the security forces against protestors and innocent bystanders. The law enforcement agencies have resorted to indiscriminate firing of rubber bullets — even on occasion live ammunition — into crowds, beatings, raids on homes and destruction of property. Scores of bystanders and demonstrators, including women, children, journalists and lawyers have been identified among the casualties. It is unacceptable that peaceful protestors, including many human rights defenders, have been arbitrarily detained for participating in nonviolent demonstrations."

The U.N. human rights experts called upon the Nepalese government to exercise restraint in policing demonstrations, to guarantee fundamental human rights for all, including the right to life, to physical and psychological integrity, not to be arbitrarily deprived of one's liberty, and to freedoms of opinion, expression, association, and assembly.

Nepal became a constitutional monarchy in 1990 and has become increasingly unstable, both in the parliament and, since 1996, in large areas of the country that have been fought over by Maoist insurgents. The Maoists have sought to overthrow the monarchy. This has led to a civil war in which an estimated 13,000 people have died.

As the second son of King Mahendra, Gyanendra was declared king for two months between 1950 and 1951, when the rest of his family was in exile in India, but was not internationally recognized. His grandfather Tribhuvan was returned to the throne shortly after, when the Rana family conceded power.

On June 1, 2001, when Gyanendra's nephew Dipendra purportedly staged a murder suicide, killing most of the family, including King Birendra (Dipendra's father, and Gyanendra's brother), Gyanendra became king again. The killings by the late crown prince Dipendra have remained controversial. The report from the official investigation mentions that Dipendra was drunk and unable to control himself and yet it claims that within a period of less than half an hour, he had carried four weapons and fired indiscriminately. Moreover, Dipendra was right handed and the entry wound of his suicide bullet was found on his left temple. All these issues have made people in Nepal suspect that it was not Dipendra who killed the royal family but somebody else.

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