Human rights the first casualty after Nepal's palace coup

THEY WERE still playing golf at the course outside Kathmandu airport yesterday. Next door, flights were beginning to arrive from the outside world again. But they were coming to a Nepal that seemed almost surreally oblivious to the political crisis engulfing it. The king might have just seized absolute power, sacked the entire government and put the Prime Minister under house arrest, but you would not have known it in the tourist bazaars of the Thamel quarter, which were doing the usual roaring trade in Buddhist devil masks and cheap Tintin T-shirts.

But then in Nepal, crisis is nothing new. The past few years have been one long, slow crisis. Yesterday every telephone line and internet connection had been disconnected by royal decree. The king had mobile phones cut off. But that's nothing in a country where, three and a half years ago, almost the entire royal family was wiped out, apparently after the crown prince went on a berserk rampage through the palace.

This is a country where people are moving to the capital in their thousands because it's the only place they feel safe from a Maoist insurgency that has already claimed more than 10,000 lives. The king may have seized absolute power, but Maoists camped half-way up the Himalayas can still bring his capital to a near standstill by calling a general strike any time they want.

King Gyanendra's move this week is just the latest episode in the long agony of Nepal. "People are angry about what has happened, they are not happy," said Resam Gurung, a former soldier working as a watchman. "I don't want an absolute monarchy, I want to live freely."

But not everyone in Kathmandu agrees. "Look, what we want is peace," said Suwoj, a bookseller in Thamel Mall, where the trekkers and backpackers hang out. "Now the king can act decisively. The Prime Minister couldn't do anything. But now the king can act decisively. He can bring peace with the Maoists."

King Gyanendra's palace coup may have caught the attention - and earned the condemnation - of the outside world, but for many Nepalese it is less important than the Maoist insurgency that has been slowly choking their country for years now. The Maoists already control large areas of rural Nepal. Their reach extends to Kathmandu, where people are scared enough to obey their commands for general strikes.

The strikes and blockades are crippling the economy. Although few tourists have faced danger from rebels, thousands have been scared away and the vital tourism economy is suffering.

Britain, the US and India all issued statements condemning the king for undermining democracy. But a trip to the parliament building is all you need to see what Gyanendra thinks of democracy. Soldiers in sandbagged positions guard the empty building. Razor wire is strung across the entrance.

But democracy was in trouble here a long time ago. Ask a Nepali when the last elections were held here, and most can't even remember which year it was. Sher Bahadur Deuba, the prime minister whom King Gyanendra has sacked and placed under house arrest, was not democratically elected. He and his government were appointed by the king last year.

But a trip to the offices of Congress, Nepal's biggest political party, tells another story. An iron gate at the end of a dusty cul-de-sac is barred shut. Behind it is a grand, new headquarters building, only half- completed. The giant portico is still swathed in scaffolding.

"You can't see anyone," said the doorman. "They've all been arrested." It is only a few leading politicians who have been placed under house arrest - the rank and file have been put in jail. The army came here four times, said the doorman, looking for anyone they failed to pick up the first time. In all, 42 party members have been arrested. Two are said to have fled to India.

"It's not right what the king has done in this situation," said the doorman. But he said it in a quiet, furtive voice - the voice of a man who can no longer speak his mind without fear.

The really serious thing King Gyanendra did this week was not sacking the unpopular Mr Deuba. It was the state of emergency he declared, under which he has launched the worst assault on human rights in Nepal's recent history.

Nepalis have had their most basic rights taken away. With his newly restored medieval powers, Gyanendra has "suspended" not only the right to free speech, but freedom of thought. He has subjected the press to strict censorship. The papers carried fawning accounts yesterday of the king's announcement that he was taking power. The king "suspended" the right to assemble peacefully, and the right to privacy. He also, according to the Kathmandu Post, suspended the right to own private property.

Most of these rights have long been abused by the military and the Maoists. But this week the king took it a step further. He said no Nepalese citizen could even claim he had those rights any more.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Traffic Planner

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As the successful candidate you...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Designer - Graduate Scheme

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join one of the UK's leading de...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor