Need for a justifiable solution

Published on Feb 14 2009 // Opinion
By Buddha Mani Dhakal

When four of the political prisoners lodged in central jail were momentarily released on November 1, 2008, there were already eleven freshly arrested prisoners locked up behind the bars of Chemgang jail. The fresh arrest was made following the declaration of so-called people’s war in Bhutan by Communist party of Bhutan (MLM). The young activists arrested from various spots are reported to be the cadres of the party.

After some futile attempts of igniting violence, the communist group almost retreated to zero level party activity in Bhutan. The party cadres are apprehended from various operation spots are now lodged in prison cells, while some of them have been reported to be killed during military operation.

graphic_jailGovinda Nirola and Khagendra Khanal were living in sector D of Timai camp before being arrested in Sarpang district by Royal Bhutan Army. Both eighth grader drop-outs from camp school, they were involved in the party activities without the knowledge of their families. Birkha Bahadur Chhetri of Khudunabari camp has the same story behind his arrest. A plus two student, Birkha was the grown-up child of illiterate parents and looked after the family responsibly. Birkha’s parents are so much ignorant of his arrest that they could say nothing of their son. The parents of these jail-birds knew of their arrest only through the local FM radio in Jhapa.

Kumar Gautam, 20, is originally from Taklai block of Sarbhang district, and current resident of sector C-1 of Goldhap camp. Kumar was arrested from Singi block of Sarpang district on February 5, 2008, according to the family. He was arrested during the publicity campaign of CPB (MLM) along with some publications of the party. However the family of Kumar knew of his whole time involvement in the party since 2003. Kumar is skilled in electrical wiring. The Gautam family has been desperately making efforts to contact ICRC through Nepal Red Cross to know the whereabouts of Kumar. Interestingly, Kumar’s ration was suspended without the confirmation of his arrest. 

Omnath Adhikari, the only son of his mother Damber Kumari, was arrested in Samdrup Jongkhar district and taken to the district jail where he faced severe torture for five months. Hasta Rai and Chaturman Tamang, also caught up along with Omnath, shared the tortures like beating with boots and iron rods; handcuffed, blindfolded and locked up in toilets; made to sleep in cold floor etc. Chaturman, 24, is eldest son of the family now living in Sector C-2 of Beldangi – I camp. Chaturman sneaked away from his hut early morning pretending to go for a wage labor. His mother had given him NRs 500 the other day. The family knew that Chaturman was taken to Chemgang jail from Man Bahadur Moktan who was released along with D. K Rai on November 1, 2008. While Omnath’s mother was able to visit her son in Chemgang on second week of December, Chaturman’s mother has not got any response from ICRC yet, for the ‘pass’ to see her dear one in jail. Same is the case with Sukman Magar of Beldangi-2 extension, Sanman Gurung and Nandalal Basnet of Beldangi-I. Sukman’s innocent baby daughter is unknown about the purpose of her father’s disappearance.

Santiram Acharya of Sector D-1/85 has a different story than above. Hailed from Dagana district originally, Santiram was arrested two years ago from Tashilakha, Phuentsholing. According to the family, Santiram was arrested simply on the basis of false information given by a vigilante. After about twenty days in custody and torture in Phuentsholing he was transferred to central jail. Santiram is presented to the court once which convicted him of being a Maoist activist and declared a jail-term of seven years, six months. But the party refuted Acharya’s involvement in party activities. According to his elder brother Devi Charan, Santiram often gets epileptic fits and has no capacity to serve as a Maoist cadre. Devi Charan visited him in Chemgang on October 8, 2008. While in camp, Santiram served as the reporter for two papers ‘The Bhutan Reporter’ and ‘Bhutan Jagaran’ with contribution to the publication of Bhutanese Refugee Children Forum. 

In whatsoever ways the young boys were snatched from various locations, alleging them to be involved in Maoist activity, the Bhutanese court is not ready to give fair trial. The party that they believed to work practically for changes in Bhutan, has almost left them stranded. They are mostly lodged in the central jail after a heavy torture in unknown locations prior to their transfer to Chemgang. The court in Thimphu seems to announce the jail terms on the basis of report already prepared by the police in the district jails before being shifted to Chemgang.

Nandalal Katwal, 62, now serving jail term of thirteen years and six months in Chemgang has already completed nine years in jail. Arrested in Phuentsholing during the party activity sponsored by Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front, Nandalal is brought before the court only once during his four months torturous imprisonment in Thimphu jail.  The court has convicted him of being involved in murder, extortion, loot and plunder. Nandalal’s ten member family is now sheltered in sector G-3/61 of Beldangi II camp. 

Visitors to the jail inmates at Chemgang complained of being carefully detected and monitored during their visit throughout the daylight. Police personnel constantly kept an eye on their actions as the inmates came to see them in the visiting room. 

In the light of ongoing third country resettlement, political prisoners’ sentiments need to be considered as long as they continue to aspire for the political changes while serving the jail terms. According to the family sources, the prisoners in Chemgang do not suggest the family to apply for resettlement as it would jeopardize their conditions of release and safety in jail. Given the prevailing evacuation and dismantling of huts in camps, the remaining families particularly of those prisoners, sense insecurity in later years. These families are put in a dilemma in making a choice between the options of repatriation, third country resettlement and local integration. Neither of the options can be seen favorably suited to them, nor do aiding agencies have any mechanism to provide justifiable outlet to their dilemma. Impeding future of a family just because a member is charged of being a communist cadre is not a justifiable solution in any way whatsoever.