The Hague: Global Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan (GCRPPB), a worldwide initiative formed in 2019 to advocate for the safe and early release of Bhutanese political prisoners, has drawn the attention of the visiting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the miserable plights of the long term political prisoners languishing in various prisons in Bhutan since several decades.
Bhutan, which boasts of having Gross National Happiness as its development paradigm in the international forum, in the early 1990s, evicted one-sixth of its country’s population by adopting ethnic cleansing policy. More than 100 thousand Bhutanese refugees have taken shelter under UNHCR protection in Nepal since 1991 but due to third country resettlement just around 7000 are still living in the two refugee camps in Nepal, says the statement issued by Ram Karki, the Global Coordinator
Global Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan (GCRPPB).
Several peaceful initiatives undertaken by the Bhutanese refugees from their refugee camps in eastern Nepal failed miserably due to the hostile attitude shown towards their movement by the Indian Administration, the statement further mentions.
Several dozens of Bhutanese Human Rights activists were apprehended during 1990s peaceful demonstrations and that exercise continued till 2008, when Bhutan security arrested those activists distributing political awareness pamphlets that appealed to people in Bhutan to speak against discrimination and fight for their fundamental rights in the country, the GCRPPB says. “All such activists were charged under the National Security Act 1992 and punished with life imprisonment for violating the country’s supreme law called Tsa-Wa-Sum, which says anyone speaking against King, the Country and the People is liable for the death penalty or life sentence.”
In the past, several high-profile political prisoners were granted Amnesty by the Bhutan King due to external pressure, but still, as per the report published by Human Rights Watch on 13 March 2023, 37 political prisoners are still languishing in the various prisons inside Bhutan’s Chemgang Central Prison, Rabuna and other prisons. Out of those 37, Madhukar Monger was released on 9 May 2023 after completing 30 years of his prison sentence, and Dechen Wangmo was released on 1 October 2023 for completing 15 years of her prison sentence.
“Most of those prisoners’ families were resettled in the various eight Bhutanese refugee resettling countries, namely the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand and Australia. “Some of their families, like that of political prisoner Omnath Adhikari, Sanman Gurung and Gangaram Dhakal, are still waiting to reunite with their beloved in the Beldangi refugee camp in Nepal. They were even denied permission to visit them in the prisons in Bhutan despite the International Crescent of Red Cross (ICRC) seeking and approving permission from Bhutan.”
In the prison, as has been reported by the recently released Madhukar Monger, several of them like Damber Singh Pulami, Omnath Adhikari, Govinda Niroula, Nandalal Basnet, Sanman Gurung and Gangaram Dhakal were having chronic sickness due to inhuman torture of the early years of their arrest. “As per Monger, sick political prisoners are asked to buy even doctor-prescribed medicine. As a result, they are forced to save already scarce ration supplies and sell them to the police officers to pay for their medication,” the statement says. “As per Mr Monger, a prison in Bhutan is inaccessible to outsiders, and people hardly know what happens inside the prisons.”
GCRPPB’s repeated appeals to the King of Bhutan to grant all of them Amnesty out of mercy has, as of now, been ignored. Families have been sending requests to the King as well, but as of now, there has yet to be a response. In recent months, Human Rights Watch has been advocating internationally for their release, but as of now, Bhutan has not taken any concrete step towards freeing its political prisoners.
“Therefore, GCRPPB seeks the attention of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres towards the harrowing plights of Bhutanese political prisoners and their families and requests to work towards exerting immense pressure on the Bhutanese King (as per National Security Act 1992 of Bhutan only the King has the power to grant Amnesty to the political prisoners) and, thereby, freeing all the political prisoners from the Bhutanese prisons,” the statement says.