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In a clear sign of escalation of conflict between the government and the communist party headed by Netra Bikram Chand “Biplab”, the police on May 22 shot a youth in Bhojpur district, who later died en route to a hospital. The death of Tirtha Raj Ghimire, 23, marks the first extra-judicial killing of political nature since a cabinet decision banned Biplab’s communist party in March 2019 and started a nation-wide crackdown on its party members.

Nurhari Khatiwada, Chief District Officer of Bhojpur, said that the youth from Sadananda Municipality, died while undergoing treatment in BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences in Dharan. Khatiwada claimed the police shot Ghimire when a group of Biplab’s cadres attacked the police patrol in a remote forest of Temkemaiyaum Rural Municipality.

The hospital spokesperson confirmed that Ghimire was “brought in dead” to the hospital. When The Record repeatedly inquired about the nature of the injury that led to the youth’s death, the hospital spokesperson refused to give any details.

“The autopsy report has been given to the police. Only they can reveal the report,” said Pashupati Chaudhary, the spokesperson of the hospital. One of the eyewitnesses who saw the youth’s body before it was cremated  said that the youth’s body was bruised all over, there were sign of torture, and two bullet wounds were visible on the leg.

The site of alleged cross fire is a remote area in Dhodre jungle, which is a five hour walk from the district headquarter. No one from the police patrol was injured in the incident. A member of the district police in Bhojpur claim that the patrol “saw something like a bomb being hurled” and opened fire.

There was no bomb, according to a member from Bhojpur police.

A leader from Biplab’s party claimed that Ghimire belonged to their party, and was shot after being captured. He said the party’s policy is to not engage in confrontation with the police. The party has also announced nation-wide shut down on May 27 to protest the killing.

However, it is not clear Ghimire belonged to Biplab’s party. Ghimire, a migrant worker, had a three-year-old baby, and had returned to his village just 20 days before his death after spending more than a year working in Mumbai. His father, who is a member of the ruling party, said he was unaware of his son’s political engagements.

“He does not have any political sense at all. He is a happy go lucky boy,” says Prakash Karki, his neighbor and his high school teacher who doesn’t believe Ghimire was part of any political party.

He had arrived to his village on Mother’s day, and told his family that he was going to Dobhane village to see his niece. His neighbors said that he was “fiercely determined” to find a new wife after his wife had divorced him when he left for India to look for a job. The family assumed that the divorcee had gone to Dobhane to search for a suitable wife.

“He did not have any political sense at all. He was a happy go lucky boy,” said one of his high school teachers who doesn’t believe Ghimire was part of any political party. The teacher recalled the youth passed School Leaving Certificate five years ago, but he could not get through the higher secondary exams.

“How can one become a full-time party cadre in a couple of weeks? And how can one die from being shot in the thigh? Extra-judicial killing is unacceptable,” says Roshan Basnet, another villager, and central member of Youth Association Nepal, a youth wing of the ruling party.

Former education minister DR Paudel from the ruling communist party commented on Facebook that this was an extra-judicial killing carried out by the police.

“We all know how many died in fake ‘cross fires’ during the ‘People’s War.’ We used to call that the work of the ‘old state’. Everybody is now asking if we, rulers of ‘new state’, are doing the same…this is a pre-meditated ‘encounter’,” he wrote.

Mohana Ansari, spokesperson of the National Human Rights Commission, which was set up during the insurgency to protect human rights, said that the Commission’s Biratnagar bureau will investigate the incident. She expressed concern that police and rebel activities bore an eerie resemblance to human rights violations that were commonplace during the 10 year-long insurgency.

“The current situation mimics the events of the early days of the Maoist insurgency. The Biplab group should stop all criminal activities like extortion and exploding improvised devices. And the government is mistaken in thinking that banning and suppressing Biplav’s party is the solution,” Ansari said.

“However, the police have no right to arrest anyone based on political faith alone. There should be evidence of wrongdoing,” she added.

Data provided by Nepal Police show that the police have arrested more than 580 leaders and cadres affiliated with the Biplab party. Of those arrested, 135 were released after interrogation, while 338 were asked to appear in court. Most of those taken before the court were released on bail.  

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