As per an open request posted in his blog by Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay on February 14, a person called Kinley Shering has started “amend the tobacco control act” in one of the most powerful media, the facebook.
As of Sunday, the group has 244 members, including the OL and executive director of Bhutan Media Foundation Lily Wangchhuk and Sonam Ongmo, Bhutanese Alien in NY blogging on issues relating to Bhutan, the himalayas and south Asia, among others. There are other lawmakers in the campaign,too.
Sonam Ongmo has even mentioned in her blog — the Prime Minister is reported to have said that the page was inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt. She cited a source from a twitter post, “PM says FB page against Tobacco Act inspired by Tunisia, Egypt & Libya and is not good. “Am I a tyrant,” he asked.”
On March 5, Prime Minsiter Jigmi Y Thinley said that street demonstrations and movements in such cases were unpredictable in their outcomes and were necessary only in countries where the rule of law is undermined by authorities; where democracy had failed and where there was no other way to draw the attention of those in power.
However, OL Tabgay has been repeatedly saying that he doesn’t want people to capture the streets to demonstrate against the law. “What I want people to do is to inform their leaders, the ones we voted to power to do something about has perhaps become one of the most hilarious acts of democracy.”
Meanwhile, Lily Wangchhuk posted her opinion in the facebook page fearing that the court verdict on Sonam Tshering might tarnish Bhutan’s image.
She wrote, “I have no doubt our law makers have formulated and enacted the act with the best of intentions for the country and her people. But if the intention of the country is to take care of the physical health and well being of the people of Bhutan, than banning and imprisonment is no solution to put an end to consumption of tobacco.”
According to Wangchuk, Bhutan attracted international attention when the ban was imposed few years ago. However, she said, the recent event would culture a lot of undesirable and negative publicity.
Most of those who have commented in the social media page expressed their joys as the country implemented its Tobacco Control Act for the first time. However, they say, the court verdict should be reconsidered or at least lightened to suit the gravity of the crime, Sonam Tshering has “unknowingly” committed.
Sonam’s father narrates his woes
According to Cee Dee Jamtsho’s post in the facebook page, Pem Phula, the father of Sonam Tshering and a farmer by background, is an extremely unhappy man. He knocked on several doors, but unsuccessfully, to seek help to extricate his son from the clutches of a law his son allegedly did not know it existed.
“When a poor person like me is unhappy and in need of help, there is no one to help,” he said. “I am an uneducated man and, let alone be aware of the tobacco act, I don’t even know my own mobile number.”
He said his son had bought tobacco worth around Nu 120 from Phuentsholing and due to which he was arrested and sentenced to prison for three years. He had not even hidden the tobacco in the vehicle he was travelling back home.
“Had he known about the law, he would have hidden and would not have been caught,” he told Bhutan Today.
Like him, his son is also an ignorant young man, he said. During vacations, the son comes home and is in the forest most of the time looking after cattle. After that he is back at the Shedra –an institute for Buddhist studies.
“When I go to meet him (in detention center), seeing him handcuffed like a criminal hurts me a great deal and he cries a lot on seeing me,” he said. “But I am helpless; I cannot do anything for him.”
The son’s problem is just one of several he has. Just recently, his daughter did not get school admission.
“Where can a poor man like me turn to for help?” he asked.
How is Sonam’s condition?
According to the OL, who visited Sonam at the detention center said before and after the verdict, the convicted was confused. “He was distraught. And he was scared. Very scared,” he wrote in his blog.
While, Cee Dee Jamtsho reported to her friends in the page that he was handcuffed like a serious criminal when she visited him. “He shared with me that he was not aware of the law and by the time he could know, he was locked up in the detention cell,” she said.
However, there are rays of hope for the convicted monk student. The OL said, he has found a lawyer who will volunteer to make an appeal at the High Court.
His blog post reads, “Sonam Tshering now has legal help. Ritu Raj Chhetri, an accomplished lawyer and ex-PDP candidate, has agreed to represent him free of charge. Earlier today, I went to the detention center to meet Sonam, and to introduce him to his legal counsel. I’m hopeful.”
If you are interested to join the facebook page, though closed but still allows requests from new members, why don’t you give a try now at ‘Amend the Tobacco Control Act’?