With incidents of violence escalating inside the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal, exiled journalists living there have repeatedly reported facing ‘trouble’ due to threats from the local authorities.
The Bhutanese media sector operating in exile in Nepal has long faced pressure, internal intimidation and an unfavorable working environment in exercising their right to provide information. With the rise in disputes inside the refugee camps, journalists, who are working voluntarily, have started fearing for their safety and security while reporting stories in the camps.
The Bhutanese refugees inside the camps are in one way or the other deprived of their right to information. This is most unfortunate as every individual’s right to information is safeguarded under his fundamental rights. In addition, journalists working on their behalf for promoting the individual’s right to information are being intimidated. More than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepali ethnic origin now live in camps in eastern Nepal.
The arrest of Bhola Siwakoti, general secretary of Bhutan Press Union, by the Nepalese Police on October 9 without furnishing any reasons, is an instance of how the local administration treats exiled Bhutanese journalists.
Besides, the Armed Police Force (APF) personnel based near the Bhutanese refugee camp at Beldangi-I have asked Arjun Pradhan, correspondent of Bhutan News Service (BNS), the only news agency run by refugee journalists, to sign a register kept at the base camp each day. Is this not harassment of independent journalists? This was done simply to harass Pradhan after he reported that an innocent refugee youth of Beldangi-I camp was killed in police firing on December 9. Journalists in the camps are in no mood to ‘compromise’ with the unnecessary and illogical harassment by the local authority.
With the passage of time, there has been much confusion among the refugees in the camps. No authority – individual or organisation – can put an end to this state of confusion without providing accurate information to the people. It must be considered that the systematic method of disseminating accurate, reliable and justifiable information can never be done without the support of the media groups.
There is always a need for Bhutanese organisations in exile, aid agencies, the local administration and individuals to extend all kind of support to the journalists and their organisations in exile for creating an atmosphere in the camps where the people can be well informed of what is going on. Only then can the long-standing Bhutanese imbroglio end with an amicable solution.
With the division among the Bhutanese refugees, journalists in exile are receiving threats from many quarters, including the refugees themselves. This does not seem ‘fair’ when there is a provision to safeguard the fundamental rights of individuals that include the right to information.
The press bodies formed in exile for the cause of establishing complete media freedom, freedom of speech and expression in Bhutan are ready to sacrifice many things for the sake of promoting the people’s right to information.
Media organisations working in exile – Bhutan Press Union (BPU), Third World Media Network – Bhutan Chapter, Association of Press Freedom Activists – Bhutan had brought out a joint declaration on October 20. All of them have agreed to work under the banner of the BNS. This implies that independent journalists in exile are thereafter associated with the BNS.
Harassment inflicted on any independent Bhutanese journalist working in exile would be an ‘attack’ on the BNS. This would adversely affect the smooth functioning of the news agency that at the moment has been one of the major sources of information for the global community and the authorities concerned as it runs all types of media including print and electronic.
Thus, the authorities concerned, including international press bodies, should urgently try to create a conducive atmosphere for Bhutan’s journalists in exile so that they can work in an independent way. They should be able to believe that they are working in a safe and dignified environment.
Undoubtedly, media campaigns can be an effective means to highlight the refugees’ plight. The role of the independent media during Jana-Andolan II in Nepal serves as a good example. Therefore, Bhutan’s independent journalists working in exile and their media organisations should not be allowed to be intimidated by anyone or any quarter.