Scores of lawyers arrested after peaceful demonstration

In a letter addressed to the Nepalese authorities, the ICJ expressed its worry at the arrest of hundreds of lawyers after a peaceful demonstration.

The ICJ urged the Nepalese Government to ensure that lawyers are free to carry out their professional functions and to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

21 April 2004

Prime Minister
Prime Minister’s Office
Singha Durbar,
Kathmandu, Nepal
Fax: 00 977 1 422 72 86

Dear Sir,
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) consists of jurists who represent all the regions and legal systems in the world working to uphold the rule of law and the legal protection of human rights. The ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers is dedicated to promoting the independence of judges and lawyers throughout the world.

We are writing to you to express our concern at the reported arrest of up to several hundred lawyers during a peaceful demonstration organised by the Nepal Bar Association today in Kathmandu. These arrests are in contravention of the Government’s international and constitutional obligations and constitute a violation of the human rights commitments of the Government reaffirmed less than a month ago in His Majesty’s Government’s commitment on the implementation of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

According to the information we have received, the purpose of the demonstration was to protest against the Government’s decision to prohibit all demonstrations and to denounce what the lawyers saw as ongoing repression of human rights defenders and persons exercising their right to peaceful assembly. As the demonstration was about to end, the police allegedly attacked the demonstrators, beating some of them, including some lawyers, with sticks. The police subsequently reportedly arrested between 300 and 500 lawyers, who were then taken to the Mahindra Police Club. The detained lawyers were not allowed to have any contact with their families or to seek legal representation before being released.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nepal has ratified, unequivocally prohibits arbitrary detention and establishes the duty of the authorities to inform anyone arrested of the ground for the arrest and to bring charges or release detainees. Article 9 of the ICCPR states:

1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention . No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.

2. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.

The arrest of these lawyers for peacefully demonstrating against Government policies further violates article 21 of the ICCPR, for the restriction of their right of peaceful assembly cannot be justified under any of the exceptions permitted by the said covenant. Article 21 states:

The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The ICJ/CIJL considers that a blanket prohibition on all demonstrations such as the one reportedly in force in Nepal is contrary to the letter and spirit of the ICCPR.

Lawyers have the right to voice their concern when they consider that the rule of law is threatened. As stated previously, the purpose of the demonstration was to effectively challenge the legality of a number of governmental decisions and actions in light of their infringement upon human rights. In this regard, we would like to draw your attention to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which were adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1990. Principle 23 recognises the right of lawyers to express their opinion, particularly on legal matters, and to partake in gatherings and demonstrations:

Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization. In exercising these rights, lawyers shall always conduct themselves in accordance with the law and the recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession.

We are concerned that the latest arrests follow the arbitrary arrest and detention of other lawyers in the past few months, such as Shyam Kumar Shrestha, Gopi Krishna Thapaliya, Gopi Bahadur Bhandar, Basudev Sigdel, Krishna Silwal, Laxman Prasar Ayral and Jeetaman Basnet. Furthermore, on 9 April around four hundred lawyers were reportedly arrested and subsequently released after another demonstration. These repeated incidents suggest a growing and worrying pattern of harassment of members of the legal profession.

We urge your Government to fully abide by its international obligations and to ensure that lawyers are free to carry out their professional functions and to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Please receive the assurances of my highest consideration.

Secretary General

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