Kathmandu, Aug 30 (IANS) When he survived torture for nine months by an infamous army battalion known to have run a ‘concentration camp’ during the Maoist insurgency, human rights lawyer Jitman Basnet decided to put his experience into a book that would serve as testimony when the government started punishing human rights violators.
However, despite the end of the guerrilla uprising and the restoration of democracy in Nepal, instead of galvanising the multi-party government into punishing the perpetrators, the 32-year-old’s torture diary has brought him death threats and warnings to stop his campaign for justice.
‘258 Dark Days’, published in March, is an account of Basnet’s ordeal in the infamous Bhairavnath Battalion barracks right in the heart of the capital, as well as the accounts he heard from other prisoners.
Basnet’s diary also names soldiers he says raped, tortured and executed people suspected of being Maoists or their sympathisers.
‘The first threat call came in May,’ Basnet told IANS. ‘We could trace it to a phone booth in Kathmandu. The man said my wife and I would be killed if I did not stop my campaign.’
The book, written in Nepali, is expected to generate more publicity next month when it is published in English by the Hong Kong-based Asian Centre for Human Rights and also in Hindi by New Delhi-based Aman Trust.
Besides the book, Basnet has also filed a petition in Nepal’s Supreme Court urging the establishment of a powerful commission to unearth the whereabouts of hundreds of people still missing and punish the army officials involved as well as the bureaucrats who supported or turned a blind eye to army atrocities during the Maoist insurgency.
Last month, Basnet and another freed detainee Krishna K.C., who was a Maoist student leader, began a fast unto death near parliament house demanding that the government disclose the fates of over 1,000 people still missing.
‘To hush us up, the government announced a so-called commission,’ Basnet says dismissively. ‘But that is yet to do anything.
‘Meanwhile, there is fear in the army that the skeletons in their cupboards would come out. So they have been busy burning dead bodies, destroying evidence, intimidating eyewitnesses.’
One of the callers, Basnet says, was a man who claimed to be one of the army officials named in the book as responsible for raping, torturing or unlawfully killing people during the conflict.
Though Basnet filed a police complaint this month, he is yet to be provided state protection.
His case has been taken up by Amnesty International that has begun a campaign, asking the Girija Prasad Koirala government to investigate the death threats and ensure Basnet’s security.
‘I did not think I would be freed alive,’ says Basnet, who was arrested after the magazine he edited in 2003, Sagarmatha Times, carried an article on the infamous Doramba killings.
An army patrol killed 19 people in Doramba village in Ramechhap district during a period of ceasefire, causing the Maoists to break off peace talks and resume arms.
Though Basnet’s family moved court thrice for his release, each time the army denied having arrested him.
Now that he is alive and free, Basnet wants the impunity still enjoyed by the army to end.
His petition comes up for hearing in October. ‘I myself am an eyewitness,’ he says. ‘My mission is to see justice done to all those who tried to hide human rights abuses.’