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Nepal ignores UN call on Charles Sobhraj

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Even as Nepal’s Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal returned to Kathmandu Monday after assuring the UN General Assembly that his government was “fully committed to the protection and promotion of human rights”, the lawyer of country’s best known prisoner said it had ignored a UN call about Charles Sobhraj.

The 65-year-old Sobhraj, who is serving a life term in Nepal’s most tightly guarded prison for the murder of an American tourist in 1975, had appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee last year, saying there had been an appalling miscarriage of justice in his case.

Sobhraj’s firebrand French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre had complained to the world body’s rights committee, pointing out that her client had been found guilty without evidence and the Nepal courts had delayed his trial interminably.

Though the trial started in 2003, the Supreme Court judges have avoided delivering a final verdict, with the case being shunted from one court to another.

The UN rights agency agreed to take up the case with the Nepal government and asked them to comment on the accusations within six months.

However, though the time limit given by the UN ended this month, Coutant-Peyre told IANS that the government had not responded to the call.

“It should be analysed as the Nepal government agreeing to the claim (that its courts did not have any real evidence to sentence Sobhraj), or does not have arguments to contest the claim,” she said.

The French lawyer is also asking the UN to challenge the Nepal court’s decision to slap a guilty sentence on Sobhraj over a lesser crime, using laws retrospectively, a highly controversial procedure.

Sobhraj, once dubbed the “bikini killer” by the tabloid press for allegations that he robbed and killed a string of western tourists, rejects the moniker, saying no court ever found him guilty of murder before his misadventure in Nepal.

He was sighted in a casino in Kathmandu in 2003 and arrested by police, who charged him with the murder of American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975.

The murder trial hinges on whether police can prove he had come to Nepal that year.

An appeals court dealt a blow to Sobhraj’s fight for freedom this year by finding him guilty of having come to Nepal in 1975 using the forged passport of a Dutch tourist.

In June, the Patan Appellate Court fined him and jailed him for a year for having violated immigration laws in 1975.

However, Sobhraj’s lawyer says that in 1975, there was no immigration law. So even if a crime had been committed at that time, the court “can’t apply today’s laws and punishment for that”.