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Bhutanese launch worldwide call to release prisoners

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Bhutanese living in various regions of the western countries have launched a worldwide campaign coinciding 62nd International Human Rights Day to help free Bhutanese political prisoners from Bhutan jails.

BNS correspondents stationed in various regions of the western countries reported that both joint and separate petitions were submitted to various rights groups including the Secretary General of the UN seeking the concerned authority’s immediate attention towards the plight of hundreds of political prisoners in various jails in Bhutan.

A media statement received from the Netherlands said seven member delegation representing Bhutanese Community in The

Bhutanese delegates in front of the Dutch House of Representatives/BCN

Netherlands submitted a petition to the Dutch Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee members drawing their urgent attention towards the plight of Bhutanese prisoners.

The meeting took place at the lower house of the Dutch parliament at The Hague on December 07. It is reported that Harry Van Bommel, representing the committee delegation welcomed the Bhutanese delegates with a motivation say that ‘every individual in The Netherlands have the rights to raise their voice when they feel that they are in injustice’.

The Bhutanese delegates briefed the Dutch committee about what they called ‘hellish life in various prisons inside Bhutan since two decades,’ according to the media release.

Shantiram Acharya, a former reporter with ‘The Bhutan Reporter’, is serving 7-year imprisonment. Acharya who had reached Bhutan from refugee camp to meet his relatives was accused of having involvement with Communist Party of Bhutan.

Meanwhile, Bhutanese folks dwelling in the United Kingdom have sent the appeal to the Secretary General of the UN. Durga Giri informed BNS that the memorandum was signed by 41 resettled Bhutanese in Manchester.

Dr. Govinda Rizal, a Philippines-based Bhutanese informed BNS that he has sent the appeal to various UN organizations including the global leaders in East Asia on behalf of exiled Bhutanese seeking their attention towards the plight of Bhutanese prisoners.

The appealers also sent a list of at least 89 political prisoners collected through individual efforts. It mentioned that 17 of them  have been given life sentence while four of them are serving 43 years sentence and 2 prisoners are sentenced for 36 years, among others whose sentencing period varies.

The exact number of political prisoners serving imprisonment in Bhutanese jails, however, is still unclear. It is believed that some hundreds continue to serve varying jail-term sentence ranging from single digit year to life imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Tek Nath Rizal, President of the Bhutanese Movement Steering Committee and a human rights leader, has drawn attention of Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley towards repatriation of refugees and unconditional release of political prisoners on the eve of Human Rights Day. “I also wish that you would prudently look into the way for unconditional release of political prisoners incarcerated in different jails of the nation unjustifiably without any cogent reason,” reads Rizal’s appeal.

Meanwhile, Bhutanese in Germany submitted the appeal to Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Society of Threaten People, and Human Rights Commission seeking their support in creating pressure on Bhutan to set free all political prisoners.

It is reportedly learnt that Bhutanese living in USA, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Philippines, Norway, United Kingdom, among others launched the joint worldwide campaign calling the support of concerned authorities to help release all political prisoners in Bhutan.

Following is the appeal submitted to various rights groups including the Secretary General of the UN.

———

December 10, 2010

His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon,

Secretary General,

United Nations Head Quarters,

New York, United States of America.

Subject: Unconditional and Immediate Release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan.

Excellency,

On this special occasion of the 62nd Human Rights Day, we the Bhutanese citizens settled in various countries in the west including the United States, Canada, England, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Australia and in Nepal would like to draw the attention of the United Nations to the plight of over 89 political prisoners, who on an average, continue to be incarcerated inside Bhutanese prisons for more than a decade. The exact number of political prisoners languishing in the Bhutanese prisons is disputed but some private sources say that the number could be much higher. Some of these prisoners are serving a life sentence. Human society has immensely benefited from the sacrifice of brave men and women like these through out history. Yet, we have not spoken bold enough to secure their freedom when they need most. Human Rights Day 2010 brings our hopes back as the United Nations highlights and promotes the achievements of human rights defenders worldwide. As stated, this will inspire a new generation of human rights defenders, who will speak up and take action to end discrimination in all its forms whenever and wherever it is manifested.

Your Excellency, may know that in recent times, thousands of Bhutanese citizens have settled in the west mainly due to the magnanimous offer by the resettling countries to help us rediscover our lives. Credit goes to the Core Group of countries and the various UN agencies for making resettlement possible. This is a great gesture of humanitarian care and support to a community, to whom resettlement basically means freedom and security from political persecution. Yet, we believe, being free means becoming more responsible. Free people must speak to secure the freedom of others. Therefore, this freedom does not give us the luxury of just sitting back complacently, while many of our fellow companions in the struggle for human rights and democracy continue to suffer inside Bhutan.

At a time, when we are stepping up our advocacy for the restoration of basic rights of our fellow men in Bhutanese prisons, the celebration of Human Rights Day 2010 with a professed goal of highlighting and promoting human rights defenders around the world comes as a big moral booster. It has emboldened us and strengthened our belief in the sanctity of our mission. Our appreciation goes to the United Nations for its persistent efforts to uphold and broaden the application of the human rights principles and its values globally. We believe that such noble efforts, in a not too distant future, will surely enable every member of the human race, including the Bhutanese minorities, to a status where they can enjoy, exercise and embrace freedom. This appeal is to urge Your Excellency to help Bhutan move forward and change for the better.

Political discrimination and victimization of ethnic or political minorities in Bhutan is not new. In fact, mechanisms of State repression are inbuilt into the Bhutanese system by default. The rise of people’s voices have always deposited fear and insecurity among the Bhutanese ruling elites and shaken their ambitions. Indeed, the Bhutanese rulers have a history of successively eliminating political opposition, including one incarnate monk who was considered as the de facto ruler of Bhutan before the onset of the present day monarchy in 1907. From the arrest of Tek Nath Rizal in 1988, to the recent arrest and imprisonment of Prem Singh Gurung, a Christian activist; incidences of arrests and incarceration of minorities in Bhutan, on the basis of political or religious beliefs, have remained regular. Gurung was arrested for screening movies on Christianity and has been sentenced to three years’ in prison by a District Court; on charges of attempting to promote a civil unrest.

Bhutan has a legacy of assuming that any one not agreeing with the official views of the government is automatically dissenting. Criticism of public policies is a treason and peaceful activities; a revolt to overthrow the government. The repercussions of actions demanding human rights and democracy is clearly evident in the ethnic cleansing of more than 130,000 people from Bhutan and their exodus in the 1990s, to neighboring India and Nepal. If anything, this is a clear illustration of selective and systematic State repression, against people of certain minority groups. The practice continues even today; even after the introduction of democracy in 2008. Opposition voices are still silenced, human rights violation continue, the media is muzzled and democracy is still not inclusive.

By the 1990s, the government’s atrocities had peaked, giving rise to spontaneous mass protests in the streets and villages of Bhutan; starting at first from southern Bhutan but quickly spreading to the other parts of the country, notably the eastern region – the home of the Sarchhop minority group. The people demanded governance through the law, the institution of democracy and respect for human rights. To the government, these acts constituted a breach of law. The protestors were officially termed ‘anti-nationals’ and were either arrested, imprisoned, killed or hounded out of the kingdom en masse. Those who were arrested continue to suffer in darkness inside Bhutanese prisons until today.

In general, the saga of political prisoners in Bhutan is painful. The absence of human rights organizations, whether international or national, perpetrates the continued violation of citizen’s human rights in the kingdom. Termed under “suspected involvement in opposition activities against the government” the prisoners are treated like enemies. They are kept in very harsh and inhuman prison conditions. With both hands handcuffed and iron shackles on both feet, physical movement is strictly limited. Food is highly unhygienic and barely sufficient to sustain life. Some ex-prisoners have contended that they were forced to drink their own urine to quench their thirst. Or at times a police officer has shown up to urinate in the prisoner’s mouths. Often, a dozen inmates may share a common, tiny crammed room that serves as the toilet, dining room and a living space. They sleep naked on cold cement floors. Housing is sub-standard and the inmates cannot shave or take bath for months, and there is no lighting.

Extreme torture should not be acceptable to any civilized human society. But in Bhutan imprisonment and torture are inseparable; in fact torture is extreme. Torture through mind control devices, electric ironing at the back, beating on the soles of the feet, hanging with heads down, water boarding, coupling thighs, wheel on the neck are common. Recipient of the first “Praksash Kafley International Solidarity Award” and the winner of the “Ambassador For Peace” awarded by the Lutheran World Federation, Mr. Tek Nath Rizal, who spent ten years of his good life inside the Bhutanese prisons, corroborates this in his book “Torture Killing Me Softly”.

Until Mr. Tek Nath Rizal exposed it in public, no one ever knew that mind shock through electromagnetic mind control technology has long existed as a secret weapon of the Bhutanese regime. Security expert Prof. Dr. Indrajit Rai agrees; writing a foreword note on Rizal’s book, he says, “I learned from those books, that the Bhutanese government practiced mind control techniques on Mr. Rizal as a means to inflict physical and mental pain in order to destroy his life.” He continues, “I would like to appeal to the international community to ban all kinds of mind-control devices, not to apply them, under any circumstances, to anyone else in the world”.

On top of regular torture, inmates are forced to do hard manual work almost 14 hours a day; fetching logs and chopping them, cutting or carrying stones, carpentry and other masonry work etc. Inability to perform invites further torture and mental humiliation. Many inmates have either succumbed to death as a result of torture at the hands of the Bhutanese police and army, or have mysteriously gone missing.

Still many others continue to languish in the dark and continue to suffer incarceration. Others, though released are now suffering from post traumatic stress and disorder. In the prisons, the inmates are held incommunicado. Except for the occasional visits by the delegates of Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross, no visitors are permitted to meet the prisoners. Worst of all, these prisoners do not avail an opportunity to represent themselves by an attorney in a court of law. Trial, if conducted, ends up without the accused understanding the whole process, since all the court proceedings are carried out in Dzongkha and no interpreters are allowed. In most cases, it turns out that, a verdict is simply handed down; even without giving them a chance to defend.

A compilation of some of the testimonies of former prisoners and their names appended here will speak more about the dreadful living conditions inside the Bhutanese prisons and the treatment of prisoners.

Two and half years after the onset of democracy in Bhutan scores of human rights advocates still continue to languish in the Bhutanese prisons under deplorable conditions. Their situation puts freedom at stake, for all the Bhutanese people as well as the international community, including the United Nations. Creation of a political climate where everyone can share a common space, respect each other, find representation and live free from fear of persecution and intimidation is surely a key to avoiding future communal disharmony and chaos in the kingdom of Bhutan.

Therefore, in the broader interest of “freedom for all”, and in the spirit of the theme of Human Rights Day 2010, we request Your Excellency to adopt the Bhutanese freedom fighters and secure their release immediately and unconditionally. We feel it is possible to do so if Your esteemed office may use its influence to urge the Bhutanese authorities to abide by the international norms and conditions enshrined in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). [“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”]. We appeal that, like every civilized human being, the Bhutanese prisoners have an inalienable right to live and enjoy a dignified life, as free citizens.

We also request Your Excellency to use the influence and authority of your good office to help the Bhutanese government sign and ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT); thereby taking measures to end or criminalize all acts of torture, and working towards a torture free society through effective domestic legislation and its application in the administrative or judicial organs of the government without any bias. We believe that if a UN body or an international human rights organization is allowed to register and work on the ground, the issue of regulation monitoring would be much more effective.

We will be honored to furnish additional details, should the UN System be interested in a broader investigation of the situation of prisoners and detainees in the various prisons of Bhutan.

Thanking you,

Respectfully,

List of signatories……

15 COMMENTS

  1. I am very glad to know about the worldwide call to release the jailbirds of Bhutan.My anger towards so called RGOB peaked while going through appeal, as some glimpses of its atrocities have been mentioned.However,one day the so called RGOB has to face the music. Its beyond any reasonable doubt. Still, Bhutan Government is doing the same hellish job .We can’t teach old dog new tricks.Old habits die hard but you are digging your own grave .RGOB has been perverting the course of justice to the international communities and international communities think that Bhutan government is the best government that ever exists in the universe.
    UNO,you must know that the violation of inalienable rights to life,liberty and happiness of the Bhutanese people have become an elephant in the room.So the real time has come for you to prove that you are really in favour of human rights,democracy and global peace.Justice delayed is justice denied. I hope that the innocent jailbirds will unconditionally be realeased soon.
    Raghu Osti,
    Canada.

  2. I was wondering if ; Jailbird ; is a connotation suitable to these political prisoners. I for sure would never connote them with this rather crime-tainted word!

  3. i know mr santi ram. he was my neighbour and class mate. we were very close too each other in many aspects, but one thing never became same in our mind…that he was so badly impressed by tumbehang limbu,a communist leader, now in birtamode. i requested my dear friend not to follow the bhutan communist party…he was very strick in his views. he went to bhutan with friends to make shelter and take photos.
    i have nothing to say…i believe communist will do nothing in bhutan or nepal or in india.
    after all he is alone now in prison leading a poor life..i just feel pity on him . i am could not support his idea..his life is ruined by so called communist leaders.
    and now the leaders are in different foreign countries doing some entry level work,, bye
    acharya.

  4. Acharya, you said it all. People who have extreme mind destroy everything, everyone. And, at the end, they potray themselves innocent and blame others.

  5. An information to the editor/writer

    Thesarus:

    Synonyms

    Noun 1. jailbird – a criminal who has been jailed repeatedly
    gaolbird, jail bird

    criminal, crook, felon, malefactor, outlaw – someone who has committed a crime or has been legally convicted of a crime

  6. Prisoners in Bhutan had been an issue of discussion. But such an organised effort has not been before. Mostly, charging issues of democratic reforms over-shadowed the sufferings of the prisoners.

    Thanks to Suren sir for initiating this process and bringing discussion in flow. It is TP Mishra, who gave pressurising life to the process. I don’t know how many people were involved to draft the appeal and who all added to the initiative. Our team in the Netherlands could not limit not taking benefit of the draft. Proud to see our team standing before the parliament. Dr. Govinda and RP daju, enormous appreciations. I hope we could come together for these types of purely human and welfare programs and changing our paradigm of rhetorics of democracy and repatriation.

  7. I confussed why the eiditor gave such heading in this article ‘Bhutanese launch worldwide call to release jailbirds’. What does ‘jailbirds’ means for editor???
    For me it is rather negative words to describe for political prisoners.
    Many of our friends, who are engaged with different communist parties of Bhutan operating from camps must evaluate seriously and do the homework. I think we the Bhutanese don’t want another radicle groups supressing innocent people in the name of liberation. ‘Ideology’ itself is outdated. Can’t we have another acceptable name to these parties so that we can get support from all the pepople. People are afraid of name itself. Can’t we have such name for exemple ‘Movement for Real Democracy in Bhutan’ (MRDB). People will have good impression by name itself.

  8. Dear valued readers,
    Following the overflow of comments regarding the wrong use of the word “jailbird”, we started consulting with experts, senior and experienced journalists associated with some of the world’s popular media houses and it is concluded that we wrongly used this term. Thus, we would like to admit our mistake here and make you clear that no otherwise harm was intended at a time when we decided to use the term “jailbird”. Mistake highly regretted.

    On the meantime, BNS likes to thank those who pointed out our mistake. Your timely alert is highly regarded as your closeness to our media. We have now replaced “jailbird” with “prisoners”.

    Thank you once again!

    – Editorial Board, BNS

  9. Every single initiation taken on behalf of prisoners at this phase of time is praiseworthy and counted by every individual Bhutanese whether they are in Bhutan, Nepal or in western countires. I am proud of you all who put their valuable time to draft an appeal in regard of releasing the prisoners from Bhutanese jail. This appeal speaks the reality about the condition in Bhutanese prisons.
    I hope, international community will take this matter very seriously and take immediate action in against of Human Right procecutor.
    Regards.

  10. After, last year’s great efforts and successful capaign in Geneva, Human Rights Day 2010 has yet seen another successful collaboration among the Bhutanese in the diaspora. The appeal sent to the UNSG was also simultaneously sent to many international forums and bodies.

    It was an honor that I got involved with the team that worked hard for this. Credit should go to Durga Giri (daju), Jogen Gazmere (Sir), Dr.Govinda Rizal, TP Mishra, Suren Ghalley, Ram Karki, Tikaram Adhikari(Sir), Vidhyapati Mishra. They took the initiative to do the work. Young turks, Govinda and TP did most of the activism, we tried to fit in where needed.

    And all those who extended their comments and suggestions while the letter was still in the process of drafting deserve an applause, especially Mr. Dick Chhetri.

    Once again, let me reiterate that the formation and existence of global organization which can represent all of us in the diaspora, has become necessary. We may not have realized but the process is practically ensuing, since last year.(Geneva last year, and the UN this year. We are already working in line with what we think an international Bhutanese organization would be doing; except without a structure. The coordnation we did this time was extremely positive and the team work was vey smooth; but it was all loose. We were strong on the ground works but we were fragile while it came to representation. And the whole point (now and in the future) of sending/appealing great international bodies is to represent ourselves more authentically, more authoritatively; so that we can have a voice like a pillar.

    I think it is time to ponder over such deficiencies and seek remedy in time.

    Rp

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