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Social Media: Facebook revolts from Tunisia to Bhutan

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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.

Sonam Tshering after he was convicted by Thimphu Court/Globalvoicesonline

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’?


  1. I fail to understand why they arrested and put that poor monk behind bars? They should have simply confiscated the tobacco and let him go with a warning. After all his background check confirmed he was a student monk and not a criminal. Why they are after monks? It’s not first time a monk was arrested I know a monk by the name of Karma from Mongar who was shot dead by Lhakpa Dorji, then Mongar Dzongdag. No action was taken against Lhakpa, even not a single day of detention. Is killing people not a crime as per Bhutanese law? And why Lhakpa was not tried in a court of law? Is carrying tobacco a larger crime than killing a monk in broad day light because Lhakpa did not like monk arguing with him. And Why JSW took no action but continued paying his salary? Supporting a criminal is a criminal act?

  2. A good piece of news. Thanks.

    This event will be there for sometime to highlight the Bhutanese Government and its misuse of power to those Bhutanese poor & helpless like Sonam Tshering. I would not also say that the rules are not made with a good motive but surely the rules are made without analysing the repercussions of their implementations to the folk half of which live below poverty-line and are uneducated.

    With a lawyer at his side now, perhaps things will start being favourable not only for Sonam but for these rules which need serious analysis.

    Any way, this might be a break for Ritu Raj too!

  3. It is starting in bhutan
    every day has its end and all bhutanese will get the long overdue justice

  4. Great job Ritu Raj Bhai. Your expertise for sure will help one victim gain his freedom. Your taking up the case ‘free of charge’ when no one else dared, is surely uplifting.

    Ritu, why don’t you also open up a case against Lhakpa Dorjee for shooting a monk with a government pistol in Mongar. That obviously is a bigger crime and the criminal must face his share of punishment.

    As for OL – Great job too but I wonder why you do not visit the hundreds of political prisoners in Chemgang and other jails.These prisoners have not even carried a ‘tobacco pack’. Why are they in prison for 7, 11, 13 years and some even serve a life sentence. Just visit them once and you will see the support you can have. The law needs to be amended here too. Don’t you think so?

    This said, I do not want to mean to mean that laws are not necessary. They need to be there and must be executed to the letter. But it sure feels that the punishment was disproportionate – a telling pointer to how the Bhutanese elites craft the laws with only their interest in mind.

  5. that is good .one should be punished like that.. other wise he should obey what the law says. man is monster, man is animal, so man should be with in laws. everyone should obey the laws.
    i have no pity on this monk, every one is obeying the rule, why not he? it was all his own result.

  6. With tobacco law @ war in Bhutan it is imperative to start a real revolt against the pseudo democracy headed by jYt. It was the facebook that created support base around the world against H.Mubark. Now it is the time for poor norbus,dorjis, jamtsjos and prashad,badhur to come closer and fight for true democracy in bhutan.
    Honestly speaking the democratic movement started by southerners was not against the eastern or western bretherns but against the monarcha and his policies.Still it is not late I appeal to all bhutanese to comeforward and start getting ready for a bigger fight against the jyt government not just tobacco.Unite and safeguard the nations from a handful individuals who rule the unorganized mass.
    come one come all and start uniting on this facebook platform and get freedom in bhutan.

  7. Its heartbreaking and really illegal act to arrest innocent in simple reason within the country. Guilty mind is always suspicious – Just to show the international community and escape from implementing the real taste and contents of democracy, RGB is abusing innocent and keeping everyone in darkness which would really decline in the near future like in Egypt or Iraq and many other autocratic countries. All that glitters are not gold! Its value and morality never satisfy anyone unless implemented in origin and truthfully. God knows the truth but waits. Buddha never shared his gospel or any religious professionalisms to misuse any human beings! Religion and politics are like the two sides of the same coin but in Bhutan all fake ,selfish and extreme autocratic compared to any outside advanced nations. Where the practice of polygamy and drug abuse is in full swing within Thimphu palace and where chang,tungba and ara(local drinks) are daily diet, how come innocent come to arrest and highlighted in such reputed pages? Great shame and insult to present regime in Bhutan. The ruler who got higher education in the US and all his disciples has to dismantle all their extreme conservative principles and implement the true and practical knowledge acquired in the US….Let the injustice come to an end and the fresh and new morning starts in Bhutan with full of joy and happiness amongst all the citizens of Bhutan irrespective of any resettled countries or any circumstances.


  8. I cannot argue with the human health impact of tobacco products, but bridging the gap between the rich and poor Bhutanese through taxation doesn’t make any sense in the Bhutanese context. As per data of 2007 of Bhutan Standard Living Survey, about 25% of the all population lives below the poverty line. And the bench mark for this level is Nu. 1096/month/ person. From their allocation itself, people spent Nu 688 on food items and Nu 408 on non-food items. We can figure out the purchasing power parity of the poor people. About 30% of population is poor, 43% – middle class and 2% – rich in Bhutan. Here, the focus should be in the 2% population and their brand is not the local and low quality tobacco stuffs.
    Bhutan is very smart to gain the international support and she knows where and how to draw the attention. Without international support, it will be too tough to sustain itself and meet the ends of a nation. Global warning related to climate change, eradication of TB through the jurisdiction, etc are some of the field that will draw global support.
    The impact is cumulative. The bill needs to be passed that fits for the soil and its people. It shouldn’t be done for the sake of drawing the international support. Similarly, ‘one nation, one people’ policy was suitable to Thailand but was a fluff in our context. Eventhough, government realized their blunder but it never had a gut to say that they made the mistake.
    People began to raise their finger and their voices need to be addressed. Before getting the international condemnation, it should amend from the proper channel.


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