In an act of solidarity, Nepal's lawyers on Thursday rallied behind former international master criminal Charles Sobhraj's beleaguered lawyer Shakuntala Thapa and her daughter Nihita Biswas, better known as Sobhraj's fiancee, opposing the decision by two Supreme Court judges to keep them under police detention while hearing a contempt of court case against them.
Thapa and Nihita, forced to spend Wednesday night in a police cell near the Supreme Court, will now be allowed to go free till the trial lasts.
A wan-looking Thapa smiled in gratitude at the lawyers from the Nepal Bar Association and Supreme Court Bar Association that sent six representatives to the bench of judges Balaram K.C. and Ram Prasad Kumar Shrestha, pointing out that it was unheard of to order imprisonment for undertrials even before the trial ended and the sentence was announced.
Thapa, who had defended Sobhraj in a murder case that fetched him a life term by Shah and a second judge last week, had accused the judges of being biased and corrupt, a view echoed by her daughter.
The statements made before a horde of TV crew at the Supreme Court premises got them entangled in a contempt of court suit filed by two lawyers.
Though the two women were asked to furnish an explanation in court within three days or face arrest, they chose not to delay but presented themselves in court immediately Wednesday.
Speaking on behalf of other lawyers, Hari Krishna Karki told the judges Thursday that since Thapa and Nihita had presented themselves voluntarily before the court, there was no need to send them to custody again.
A stern Shah agreed to let the women go provided the two bar associations stood guarantee that they would present themselves in court again for the trial.
"My home is in Nepal, my family is here," Thapa told the judges. "I am not going to flee the country."
However, Shah refused to allow Thapa's friend and Maoist leader Laxmi Devkota to stand guarantee.
There was growing talk about the way Thapa, a senior lawyer herself, and her daughter, who is just 22, had been treated.
The court was abuzz with speculation that extra hard measures were adopted towards them. Karki said it was the first time that people accused of contempt of court were sent to custody even before hearing started.
Nihita gave her statement in court Thursday. The 22-year-old put on a brave face and did not cry or fumble though she had wept as if her heart would break Wednesday evening when she was sent to the Singha Durbar police cell with her mother.
Trial is expected to commence from Friday.
Three human rights organisations Thursday condemned the women being sent to custody.
"The judges' order was a case of jail first and listen afterwards," the three groups said in a statement circulated in court. "It was autocratic."
The three rights groups are Civil Right Association Nepal, Human Rights United Front and Human Development and Peace Campaign, Nepal.