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We're being persecuted: Sobhraj lawyer

Once respected as a scrupulous researcher and human rights activist, Nepali lawyer Shakuntala Thapa is today persecuted in her own country, she says, thanks to her decision to defend Charles Sobhraj, the sensational "Bikini Killer" of yesteryears.

world Updated: Aug 02, 2010 17:00 IST

Once respected as a scrupulous researcher and human rights activist, Nepali lawyer Shakuntala Thapa is today persecuted in her own country, she says, thanks to her decision to defend Charles Sobhraj, the sensational "Bikini Killer" of yesteryears.

"I have been living in fear of my daughter's and my life," says the single mother of two who became a household name as well as object of mockery ever since her daughter Nihita Biswas fell in love with Charles Sobhraj after a chance visit to prison and the two declared themselves engaged and even married.

"We have faced ridicule, threats as well as attacks and now, I feel this country will not let us live," Thapa told IANS, after Nepal's Supreme Court, where she lost her battle to get Sobhraj acquitted of the murder of an American tourist, summoned her and her daughter for contempt of court after both criticised the judges presiding over the trial.

The summons followed heated jostling on the Supreme Court premises Friday after judges Ram Kumar Prasad Shah and Gauri Dhakal ended a seven-year-old court room drama that had generated worldwide interest by pronouncing Sobhraj guilty of the murder of American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975.

Nihita and Thapa, who were present in the court, gave vent to their anger and disappointment at the sentence, calling it biased and accusing the judges of having been bribed.

It triggered a severe reaction Sunday when lawyers Rajan Adhikari and Shanta Sedhai filed a contempt of court petition against both, demanding a one-year jail term and an NRS 10,000 fine as punishment.

Judge Shah heard the application and ordered the pair to present their explanation within 72 hours or face arrest.

"This is the first time in Nepal's legal history that an arrest order has been issued in a contempt of court case," Thapa said. "There have been frequent contempt of court proceedings. One of the current Supreme Court judges, Prakash Basti, had faced a contempt of court charge."

One of the most sensational contempt of court cases involved a leading lawyer, Bishwakanta Mainali, who was also the then president of the powerful Nepal Bar Association.

Mainali criticised Nepal's judiciary and called it corrupt, resulting in his licence to practise being suspended for three months.

But the suspension order created a nationwide protest by lawyers who boycotted the court, eventually forcing the judicial authorities to hurriedly withdraw it.

Thapa said her criticism was directed towards the two individual judges, not the court and judiciary for whom, she said, she had every respect.

Friday's judgment, hailed by the prosecution as the "triumph of justice", remains controversial still.

The judges said the guilty verdict was based on Sobhraj's trials in India's courts, especially a confession he made in the Indian Supreme Court admitting he was in Nepal in 1975.

In India, the Supreme Court does not take confessions. Confessions are taken by magistrates and the documents have to be signed by the official and bear his seal of office.

However, the sheaves of paper presented by Nepal police as the confessions of Sobhraj and his then accomplice Marie Andree Leclerc are unsigned documents without any seal.

Also, as Thapa indicated in her arguments before the court, Sobhraj's confession is dated July 6, 1976 when he was arrested from a New Delhi hotel. Since the arrest occurred near midnight, she says it is physically and technically impossible that he could have given an 11-page statement the same day.

Marie Andree's confession also bears the same date. However, according to Indian police, the Canadian was arrested only July 9.