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‘Sobhraj facing starvation, dismal winter’

By Sudeshna Sarkar,IANS,

Kathmandu : Fabled to have led a luxurious life inside New Delhi’s notorious Tihar Jail where money brought him food and other luxuries from outside, yesteryear’s crime maestro Charles Sobhraj has fallen on hard days in Nepal facing starvation and a dismal winter.

The 64-year-old’s lawyer Shakuntala Thapa, who is also the mother of the young Nepali woman who shot into limelight this year by announcing her engagement to the prisoner 44 years her senior, fears Sobhraj is starving to death in Kathmandu’s Central Prison where he has been jailed since 2004, after being found guilty of the murder of an American tourist nearly three decades ago.

“I was allowed to meet Sobhraj last on Nov 27,” says Thapa, who has been running from the bar association to the home ministry to Nepal’s apex court asking for protection of Sobhraj’s prison rights.

“That was the last time I took him food. Since he doesn’t eat the prison fare, we don’t know what he has been living on after his stock of biscuits ran out.”

Thapa also says that while winter has set in, Sobhraj has no warm clothing and is likely to fall ill.

“He gave his jacket and woollens to us for dry-cleaning,” Thapa told IANS. “Now we are not being allowed to return them to him. There are nearly 7,000 prisoners in Nepal. But no one else is treated in this way.”

According to Thapa, who says her daughter Nihita Biswas married Sobhraj inside the same prison earlier this year, even his “wife” is not being allowed to meet him.

“Nihita was allowed to see him last on Oct 13,” she says. “This is a gross violation of Nepal’s Prison Act and the international covenants Nepal has signed. But the jail and court authorities rag me when I point this out. They say, international laws don’t apply in Nepal.”

In 2003, after a Nepali daily reported that Sobhraj, suspected to have been behind the murder of Connie Jo Bronzich and her Canadian boyfriend Laurent Armand Carriere in 1975, was seen roaming the streets of Thamel, Kathmandu’s tourist hub, police arrested him from a casino and slapped him with Bronzich’s murder.

While the trial went on in Kathmandu’s district court, the media went wild, graphically reporting Sobhraj’s posh lifestyle inside prison, where he was allowed to get takeaway Chinese meals from outside.

The ensuing limelight, prison authorities complained, created a serious security problem for them. They also allege that Sobhraj’s engagement to Nihita is a “diversion” to distract security personnel and help the wily Sobhraj escape from prison.

Matters came to a head a month ago when an American author, who had contacted Sobhraj in prison with the intention of writing his biography, told a Nepali television camera in jest that Sobhraj dined on Italian food inside prison and drank red wine.

The comments were, however, taken in dead seriousness by the media and viewers alike and the jail authorities say they drew flak for letting Sobhraj make a mockery of the prison system.

Now it remains to be seen if the “starving” Sobhraj would be able to attend court next week when his appeal against the guilty verdict, that has fetched him a 20-year jail term, comes up for hearing.

The appeal has been dragging on for nearly three years due to frequent postponements, which made his lawyer in Paris lodge an appeal with the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva.

Sobhraj claims he never came to Nepal before 2003 and police faked evidence to put him behind bars.

The prosecution says there is strong circumstantial evidence but so far, have not been able to produce the three-decade-old original documents needed to substantiate their contention.