Nepalese police made a series of arrests on Friday after campaigners who have been staging a month-long anti-rape protest defied a ban on entering an area close to the prime minister’s residence.
Police spokesman Keshav Adhikari said demonstrators had entered the restricted area in the upscale Baluwatar neighbourhood of Kathmandu, near the residence of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, after being warned not to do so.
“We have allowed them to stage peaceful protests. But they entered into this area which was restricted. Therefore, we arrested more than a dozen,” Adhikari told reporters.
Hundreds of demonstrators have been taking part in daily protests in Baluwatar since late December after an outcry over an alleged sex attack by police on a young woman returning home to Nepal from Saudi Arabia.
Sita Rai, an assumed name used by the 21-year-old to protect her identity, says she was robbed of her remittances at Kathmandu’s international airport by officials and then raped by a policeman who had offered to help her.
Rai was given US$1,700 in compensation by the government – $700 less than the amount she says she lost.
A police constable and an immigration officer have been arrested and are currently on trial. Two other immigration officials are being sought by the authorities.
The demonstrations have echoed similar mass protests in neighbouring India over the deadly gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi last month.
The protesters in Nepal have been demanding stricter laws for rapists and the setting up of fast track courts to oversee cases of violence against women.
Jagannath Lamichhane, one of the protesters in Baluwatar on Friday, vowed that campaigners would not be silenced until they were satisfied justice had been done.
“Even after a month of regular protests, the senior officials in Rai’s case have not been punished,” Lamichhane said.
“We are also insisting on transparency in the investigation of other cases related to violence against women,” he added.
The national Women’s Commission says more than 15 per cent of Nepalese women suffer some form of sexual abuse during their lifetime.