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Demonstrations spread in Nepal after rape case

Nepalese activists shout slogans as they protest near the prime minister's residence in Kathmandu on Sunday.

Story highlights

  • Protesters call for change in Nepal, raising similar issues as in India
  • A migrant worker was detained at an airport, then robbed and raped, her lawyer says
  • An airport police officer has been charged with rape

Echoing outrage seen in the streets of Indian cities after a deadly gang-rape in New Delhi, protesters in India's northern neighbor Nepal are also demanding their government take action over violence against women.

For almost two weeks, demonstrators across Nepal have chanted slogans and massed outside official buildings, including the prime minister's residence, demanding better protection of women and criticizing what they describe as the government's delayed response to issues such as rape and abuse.

Some protesters in Nepal credit the Indian protests with bringing the issue of women's safety to wider attention.

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In India, the angry demonstrations after the gang-rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old woman have prompted initial changes -- such as increasing the number of women working in New Delhi police stations and official pledges to strengthen laws regarding rape and assault.

"The media attention to protests in Delhi has raised awareness on issues of violence against women in Nepal," said Manju Gurung, of Pourakhi, an organization that advocates for female migrant workers.

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Public uproar began on social media after Nepalese news reports alleging that a police officer had raped a migrant worker. Calling the movement Occupy Baluwatar, named for the upscale neighborhood where the prime minister's residence is located, the campaign moved to the streets where hundreds gathered.

Some demonstrators carried signs that read, "Why are you silent?" and "End domestic violence and abuse against women." Their outrage focused on several cases of alleged rape and abuse against women, including that of the migrant worker, whom they refer to as Sita Rai.

"This case is representative of several others that go unreported," Gurung said. "Sita took the courage to speak up, but it is difficult for a woman in our society to reveal such incidents of abuse."

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On November 18, the woman returned home to Nepal on vacation from Saudi Arabia, where she works as a domestic worker, said Basanta Bahadur Basnet, a lawyer who represents the woman.

Immigration officials at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu observed that she was traveling on a fake passport and kept her overnight at a detention center. Three of the officers took her savings of 8,500 riyals (about $2,300), her lawyer said.

One of the airport police officers took her to a motel near a bus park where he robbed and repeatedly raped her, the lawyer said. The woman then returned home to Bhojpur, in eastern Nepal, where her family resides.

"She was persuaded by her family members to complain," Basnet said. In mid-December, she filed the case in Kathmandu, and it began to gain attention in Nepal around the same time as news of the gang-rape attack in New Delhi emerged.

The airport police officer, Parsuram Basnet, faces charges of rape and cheating. He has appeared in court and now awaits a verdict, according to Keshav Adhikari, a spokesman for the Nepalese police. The verdict could take about five to six months but could come sooner because of the high interest in the case, according to police.

Parsuram Basnet has been suspended from his job as a police officer at the airport, but he cannot be removed from his job until the verdict, said Dhiraj Pratap Shingh, a spokesman for Kathmandu District Police.

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The suspect maintains that the sex was consensual, said his defense lawyer, Bhola Kuma Bhattarai. Although married, he had told the woman that he would marry her, his attorney said.

The defense questioned the timing of the woman's rape complaint saying, "She filed a case so late because others told her to do so. Why would she file a case a month later otherwise," the defense attorney said.

The remaining three immigration officers accused of robbing the woman have been suspended and are under investigation, according to authorities.

The victim was given 150,000 Nepalese rupees (about $1,700) as relief, but it was not compensation, according to Bhola Siwakoti, joint secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

She is now receiving counseling, according to Gurung, who works with female migrant workers.

"We are pushing for female immigration officers at the airport and strict monitoring to prevent such incidents," Gurung said. "Everyone has come together for the protests."

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has stated that he was "deeply ashamed" of the government officials' involvement in the incident, and has assured he would take steps against perpetrators of violence against women, according to local media reports.

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