Protests escalate after police parade ‘wrong’ rape suspect

- BHAWANI BHATTA, KANCHANPUR

Aug 22, 2018-

At least 20 people were injured when police intervened in a rally organised by the residents of Mahendranagar on Tuesday, claiming the man presented by police as the main suspect behind the rape and murder of 13-year-old Nirmala Panta last month was innocent and that the real perpetrator was still at large.

The District Police Office presented 41-year-old Dilip Kumar Bista before the press on Monday, saying he was the main suspect and had confessed to the crime. However, the Mahendranagar residents say Bista is innocent, and was framed by the police by taking advantage of his mental illness.

Protests broke out spontaneously after the locals closed down central market areas and assembled outside the District Administration Office, demanding the authorities arrest the real culprit. Demonstrators also chanted slogans against police for detaining an innocent person to hide their own incompetence.

Police charged at the rally, wielding sticks and shooting tear gas canisters. Twelve demonstrators were injured in the melee. Police said eight of their men were also hurt when protesters threw stones at them.   

The protesters, meanwhile, claimed that the clash erupted after some policemen in civilian clothes infiltrated their peaceful rally and started throwing stones at security personnel. They threatened to intensify protest if the authorities failed to arrest the real perpetrator.

“The man whom police paraded as the main suspect on Monday could not have committed the crime,” said Mina Bhandari, one of the protesters. “The fact that he is mentally ill and had alleged criminal history makes him a perfect fall guy. So, police blame him and in doing so deceive the victim’s family.”

Allegations against the police followed admission by the father of the victim, Yagya Raj Panta, that law enforcement officials made him file a case against Bista under duress.

“They forced me to sign a document that charged this man with raping and murdering my daughter,” he said.

According to Panta, police even showed him what they claimed to be the shreds of Bista’s shirt and a packet of condoms recovered from the incident site. While Deputy Superintendent of Police Gyan Bahadur Sethi insists that Bista was arrested based on the evidence gathered from the crime scene, Panta says he doubts if the authorities are telling the truth about his daughter’s rape and murder.

“Maybe, they are accusing the wrong man to quell the protest,” he said.

The local administration is not pleased with the way the case has developed, particularly about the protests taking place not only in Mahendranagar, but also in other parts of the country.

Nirmala Panta’s family had also refused to receive her body demanding that the authorities bring the perpetrator to justice. As demonstrations peaked and began grabbing national attention, police and local administration allegedly threatened the father with criminal charges for the protests taking place in town.

Panta told the Post last month that he was forced to cremate his daughter because police threatened him with criminal charges if the protests got violent.

Nirmala’s body was cremated four days after it was discovered in a sugarcane field on July 27, a day after she was reported missing.

A small funeral service was held on the Mahakali riverbanks, heavily guarded by police personnel.

Published: 22-08-2018 07:24

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