Serial killer Charles Sobhraj is in need of an open-heart surgery, according to details of the verdict by Nepal’s Supreme Court that has ordered his release, even as his family and lawyers hailed the ruling ahead of the 78-year-old’s deportation to France.
According to a four-page summary of the order, Sobhraj’s habeas corpus petition for release from solitary detention was granted on humanitarian grounds after several pleas were filed on his behalf. Sobhraj is now expected to be deported to France, where he is a citizen, within the next 15 days. He, however, continued to be in custody on Thursday, a day after the verdict.
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“It’s a correct and good order,” said his lawyer Lok Bhakta Rana. “Because of his notoriety, initially, the registrar of the Supreme Court was refusing to even accept our petition. We had to file a separate petition to get them to accept it, and then finally a latest habeas corpus appeal was filed just about a month ago.”
Justices Sapana Pradhan Malla and Til Prasad Shrestha, in their order, said: “His continuous imprisonment violates the standard human rights of the prisoners and inmates and rights provided by the constitution and prevalent laws. Thus, this court has issued an order of habeas corpus.”
Linked to about 20 murders, Sobhraj has been in jail in Nepal since 2003 for murdering two North American tourists in the 1970s. In India, he gained notoriety when he escaped from Delhi’s Tihar Jail in 1986 after feeding the guards cakes, cookies and grapes laced with sleeping pills. The jailbreak triggered a nationwide manhunt and Sobhraj was arrested at O Coqueiro, then a popular hangout destination in Goa, 22 days later by inspector Madhukar Zende.
The court documents show how the Nepalese government refused to take a call on his release despite a 2019 order by the high court of Patan, asking for a quick decision. At that time, Sobhraj was over 74 years of age and qualified for early release on account of his health and conduct. They set a deadline of three months and later also asked the Nepalese home ministry to respond within a month, but no decision was taken.
“(They) passed an order of mandamus to the ministry of home and other respondents to take a decision within 1 month taking into account the writ petitioner’s age, the duration of the sentence he has served, the duration of the remaining sentence, his heart ailment which warrants Open Heart Surgery and his conduct. However, no decision has yet been made,” said the order.
A day after the court ordered his release, Sobhraj continued to be in his high-security cell, called Golghar, or a restricted round cell. The Nepal top court’s order notes that a 2016 order also asked for him to be moved to a regular cell, but the jail authorities cited overcrowding for not implementing that order. “He was very distressed today because the jailer didn’t understand the implication of the SC order,” said Rana. “They are supposed to move him to another room and his deportation process will begin there.”
Sobhraj’s jailers may have erred on the side of caution, considering his history of jailbreaks. From organising a birthday party in Tihar in 1986 where spiked food was served, to drugging the guards at the hospital detention centre in Kabul, Sobhraj is infamous for outwitting jailers. Incidentally, other than Rana, Sobhraj’s legal team also includes his mother-in-law Shakuntala Thapa and her daughter and his wife, Nihita Biswas. Biswas is said to be 44 years younger than him. “I think she used to accompany her mother during her visits to jail, where they met,” said Rana.
“I will speak to you in detail tomorrow,” said Shakuntala Thapa, adding: “All I know is that the court has given its order.”
Nicknamed “the Bikini Killer” and “the Serpent” due to his skill at deception and evasion, Sobharaj was serving a life-term in the Kathmandu jail since 2003 for the murder of American woman Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975 in Nepal.In 2014, he was convicted of killing Laurent Carriere, a Canadian backpacker, and given a second life sentence.
A life-term in Nepal means 20 years in jail.
Sobhraj was spotted in a Kathmandu casino in August 2003 and arrested. He was slapped with a life sentence for the murder after a trial.
(With PTI inputs)