People in Nepal have expressed anger after the country’s former parliament speaker and ex-Maoist leader was acquitted of charges he raped a government worker at her home while he was intoxicated last year.
Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a senior member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NPC), has been in detention since October after a female employee in the assembly accused him of trying to rape her.
A district court ruling on Monday said there was no evidence backing the allegation.
News of his acquittal was widely condemned on social media.
“Acquittal of Mahara, despite publicly exposed body of evidences against him, says a lot about the credibility of our institutions. The man will once again walk with his head held high. That is the power of belonging to the ruling establishment…this is what you voted for,” Twitter user Anurag Acharya wrote.
Acquittal of Mahara, despite publicly exposed body of evidences against him, says a lot about the credibility of our institutions. The man will once again walk with his head held high.That is the power of belonging to the ruling establishment…this is what you voted for #Nepal ! https://t.co/be4l6PFEwJ
— Anurag Acharya (@Anurag_Acharya) February 18, 2020
Kashish Das Shrestha, a writer and photographer, said: “This government’s protection of sexual predators and criminals is terrifying.”
In a video interview published in September on an online news portal, the alleged victim said Mahara was drunk when he arrived at her home and assaulted her.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, withdrew her allegations a few days later, following alleged threats and pressure, media reports said at the time.
She eventually submitted a formal complaint and a government lawyer filed the case with the court.
Investigators collected evidence, including a bottle of whisky and a pair of broken spectacles, allegedly belonging to Mahara, from her home. Mahara denied the allegations but stepped down as speaker.
“Isn’t justice delivered too early for men, and denied lifelong for women?,” one Twitter user asked.
Hima Bista, a women’s rights activist, told Al Jazeera: “We have not managed to build a system which protects the survivors of gender-based violence. Unfortunately, the case of former Speaker of the House clearly shows impunity is deeply ingrained, which overrides any potential fight for justice.”
Can I put it this way?
People celebrating Mahara's release as a victory of truth-the same people who quash Nirmala's quest for justice.
Isn't justice delivered too early for men, and denied lifelong for women?
© जीतेन्द्र खतिवडा ,२०२०
— हाइवे (@Highwaynep) February 17, 2020
Mahara was elected speaker of the House of Representative last year after the NCP won a majority of the seats in elections in November 2017.
Rachana Khadka, a Central Committee member of the ruling NCP, said Mahara will get his parliamentary seat back, but the party “now has to answer both legal and moral questions”.
“The party needs to confront both legality and morality issues in the coming days,” she told Al Jazeera.
Mahara was a leader of the Maoist rebels who fought a violent campaign against the government between 1996 and 2006.
The Maoists entered UN-monitored peace talks in 2006, ending a decade-long armed revolt, and joined mainstream politics. Mahara played a key role in the peace talks with the government.
He has served as deputy prime minister, information minister and home minister.
Additional reporting by Arun Budhathoki from Kathmandu