Celebrity rape case spotlights Nepal laws

For the past weeks, there is one news item that has overshadowed news of the MCC or Ukraine: allegations that Nepali actor and model Paul Shah raped a minor colleague.

Shah, 32, is in police custody in Tanahau since 27 February after a 17-year old singer with whom he had done numerous music videos filed a complaint at the police accusing the actor of raping her under false pretenses of marriage.

Shah was on the run after he failed to appear before law enforcement following the charge filed against him. Before news of his arrest on 27 February, the actor said via social media that he would turn himself in.

Prior to his arrest, as details emerged about his alleged serial abuse of the teenager singer, Shah released audio recordings on social media in an attempt to explain to the public what he called “conspiracies” and “attacks” against him.

Even as a significant number of Nepalis have called for Shah to be tried under the full extent of the law, his arrest has followed protests in front of the police station as well as on social media in his support, including by insiders within Nepal’s entertainment industry.

Meanwhile, the minor has come under intense public scrutiny as she continues to be the subject of various media content with the case involving a popular celebrity. She has broken down in tv interviews, complaining of mental torture.

Nepal’s Act Relating to Children 2018 defines those below the age of 18 as minors, and the case has drawn attention to the rape and abuse of minors. The case has also highlighted the fact that men, boys and gender minorities are not specified as victim of case of rape under the Criminal Code.

Some 45% of reported rape cases in 2020-21 were of girls below 16 years of age, according to Women Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC). There has been a steady rise in the number of rape cases in recent years in Nepal, although it is unclear if this is because there are more incidents or more women are reporting them.

The Nepal Police in 2021 reported that up to seven women and girls are raped everyday in the country, most of them by neighbours, relatives and acquaintances.

One point that has come under intense scrutiny is that law in Nepal specifies women and girls as the victim in case of rape. Men, boys, and gender minorities are not included in the definition Criminal Code ma.

Following intense media scrutiny, Nepal’s Cyber Bureau directed ‘individuals and groups to refrain from influencing investigations into serious crimes by uploading videos and photos with misleading and false captions on social media that are intended to disturb social harmony and violate the privacy and mental health of the victim’.

Anyone involved in such activities would be prosecuted in accordance with prevailing laws under Nepal’s Electronic Transactions Act 2063.

Earlier, Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also said it was monitoring the investigation process as well as the online outrage following Shah’s arrest, urging people to assist in the independent investigation.

The NHRC urged people to refrain from recording and disseminating videos without the permission of the concerned parties, and to hand over any relevant information to the authorities as evidence.

“Investigation of serious crimes should be conducted in a confidential, impartial, independent manner in accordance with the principles of criminal justice,” the NHRC’s statement read.

The case has become another landmark in Nepali society debating violence against women, rise in rape cases, Nepal’s entrenched patriarchy, as well as trial by media and the investigative and judicial agencies being influenced by the powerful.