As part of my regular interactions with the families of Bhutanese political prisoners, I spoke with Dhan Maya Adhikari, Beldangi refugee camp-based only sister of one of the Chemgang-based political prisoners Omnath Adhikari.
As we began talking, she broke into tears, saying that her only brother is in prison and that she has been waiting unsuccessfully for 15 years to get her brother back so that she can offer him Bhai Tika. “I desperately miss my only brother, especially during Bhai Tika, and I cried the whole day remembering him,” she said.
“We heard from Madhukar Magar daju that my brother is very sick and has been struggling to survive for many years due to rigorous torture,” said Dhan Maya. She further said, “In May 2023, after years of struggle, the ICRC arranged for my mother to visit my brother in Chemgang prison in Thimphu, but as she travelled, the Indian Immigration office in Jaigoan denied her entry into Bhutan, citing an error in her papers.” Though ICRC has given words to re-arrange her travel, nothing has been done as of now, said Dhan Maya on her mother’s desperate wishes to meet her ailing son in Chemgang prison.
“My mother is determined to stay in the camp until brother Omnath Adhikari returns. So, she did not opt for resettlement, and I could not dare to leave my lonely mother behind and go for resettlement”, said Dhan Maya.
Omnath Adhikari was born in Dagapela in 1985 and was a resident of Bhutanese refugee camp Beldangi II sector C subsector III hut number 104. As per a report published by Human Rights Watch, he was arrested in February 2008 from Sarbhang, Bhutan while distributing pieces of political literature and imprisoned in Chemgang Central Prison for life.
As per the available information, in total, 36 political prisoners are still languishing in various prisons inside Bhutan, mostly at Chemgang Central Prison in Thimphu and Rabuna Prison in Wangdi.
Despite repeated appeals from the families, the Global Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan (GCRPPB), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, the European Union and other civil society bodies to Bhutan to release all its political prisoners without further delay, Bhutan continues to ignore such appeals.
In the outside world, Bhutan claims that everyone in the country, including the street dogs, is happy. But on the contrary, in reality, inside Bhutan, even human rights and political activists have been thrown to life imprisonment for the reason that they advocate for political change and human rights in the country.
It is high time the Bhutan King gave them justice, released them all, and took full responsibility for their proper rehabilitation into everyday living to end human miseries.
Let every unfortunate family get their beloved safely, and sisters like Dhan Maya get her only brother to offer Bhai Tika during Diwali next year.
Ram Karki is the coordinator of the Global Campaign for the release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan (GCRPPB).