A long and desperate wait for the families of Bhutanese political prisoners

The Campaign to release Bhutan’s political prisoners renews its appeal to the Bhutanese king and int’l community.

Representation image. (Photo: Pixabay)

NL Today

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: Ganga Lal Gurung was deported from Bhutan in 1992 and has been living at a Beldangi refugee camp in Jhapa, Nepal with his family ever since. His family life took a turn for the worse when, in 2008, his younger brother, San Man, was detained in Bhutan on his visit to the country. Gurung, who is around 51, has only met his brother twice with assistance from the Red Cross. Gurung professes ignorance about the reason why his brother, who is around 40, has had to languish in prison for so many years.

“Maybe he did commit some kind of mistake to be in prison,” Gurung told Nepal Live Today. “But the Bhutanese state should understand that he is a true patriot and meant no harm.”

Like San Man, over 100 refugees who were deported from Bhutan during the democratic struggle of the 90s are now languishing in prison, facing life sentences. Various international human rights organizations have been appealing to the Bhutanese state that the inmates be pardoned, given that Bhutan is now a democracy.

Leading the pack is the Global Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan (GCRPPB), which on July 13 renewed its call to free the prisoners by appealing to the King of Bhutan and other stakeholders. The campaign was formed in 2019 to call for the early release of Bhutanese political prisoners.

The appeal sent to Bhutan King has also been copied to Bhutanese prime minister, ministers, members of parliament, international human rights bodies such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN Human Rights Council, and European Union, among others, the campaign said in a statement.

Various international human rights organizations have been appealing to the Bhutanese state that the inmates be pardoned, given that Bhutan is now a democracy.

In its appeal, the campaign “sincerely requested the King of Bhutan to have mercy on those unfortunate prisoners and their families and release them without any delay”, the statement further reads.

The campaign has lamented that while it has sent several appeals to the king and other stakeholders, the calls have gone unheeded.

Currently, more than 100 political prisoners have been languishing behind the bars in the South Asian country for decades. Most of them were booked under the National Security Act which demanded life sentences; thus the prisoners are currently serving life sentences. Most of their elderly parents, wives, and children are now resettled in various developed countries after living in various UNHCR aided refugee camps in Nepal for more than 20 years.

“We request all the stakeholders for urgent intervention towards pressurizing Bhutan for the early release of political prisoners,” Ram Karki, coordinator of the campaign, said in a statement.

A copy of the letter addressed to the king, which is obtained by Nepal Live Today, reads, “The elderly parents of those political prisoners are in the way of dying without their wishes to see the face of their beloved son’s being fulfilled. Children of those prisoners who were just born have great wishes to see their fathers and likewise other family members. They have been waiting for decades in the hope of getting opportunities to live the rest of their lives peacefully together.”

And so it is for Ganga Lal. He is in the process of getting repatriated to Australia. His parents are already there. But the uncertainty that whether he’d ever been able to catch up with his brother again nags him, he says.

“We have been waiting for so long,” he says. “We have repeatedly appealed to the state but to no avail. Now we are helpless and left on our own. If my brother returns to us, it would mean the world to me and the family.”