CEHURDES condemns imprisonment of the Bhutanese journo (Reproduction)
The Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES)—a Kathmandu-based freedom of expression monitoring group—has condemned the imprisonment of Shantiram Acharya, a young Bhutani journalist, by the Bhutanese authorities.
According to the Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) Bhutan, an exiled Bhutanese media group based in Kathmandu, Acharya, a Bhutanese of Nepali origin who was living in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal, was arrested in 2007 when he visited Bhutan to meet his relatives.
Acharya was kept in secret detention for almost two months and tortured by police to extract a confession, APFA said. Bhutan police has claimed that he was arrested for taking photographs of an outpost of the Royal Bhutan Army.
According to APFA, Acharya was convicted because he could not hire an attorney to defend him as Bhutan does not have any independent attorney. Also, he had no money since he was produced in the court without the knowledge of his family members.
BBC World Service on Thursday quoted an unnamed Bhutanese official confirming that Acharya, 20, has been sentenced to jail for seven and a half years for “terrorist activities” by the royal government of Bhutan.
Acharya, who used to work for the Bhutan Reporter, a monthly newspaper being published by Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal, received the sentencing by Bhutan’s high court for being allegedly involved in subversive activities against the Druk regime, including participating in military training conducted by the Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxist Leninist Maoist) in Nepal, The armed underground organisation is banned in Bhutan and believed to be operating from Nepal and India.
The Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxist Leninist Maoist) has, however, issued a statement saying that Acharya has never been its member, nor had any links with the organisation.
The South Asia Human Rights Index 2008, published by the New Delhi-based Asian Center for Human Rights (ACHR), expressly says there is no political freedom in the Himalayan kingdom and that Bhutan essentially remains a repressive regime. “Bhutan does not have an independent judiciary. … Even bureaucrats were appointed as judges of the Apex Court,” the Center said. (For details, See http://www.achrweb.org/reports/SAARC-2008.pdf)
Saying that Acharya has been imprisoned without free legal trial and without recourse to independent legal counsel, CEHURDES has called upon the Royal Government of Bhutan to open Acharya’s case for review and let the 20-year-old hire an independent attorney. The organisation has also demanded that the jailed journalist’s whereabouts be made public.
Some 100,000 Bhutanese of Nepali origin have been languishing in UN-maintained refugee camps in eastern Nepal for nearly two decades since they were evicted from Bhutan by the Drukpa authorities. They have been launching a peaceful movement and have been lobbying with the international community to pressure Bhutan to take its bona fide citizens back home.
CEHURDES has also called upon the Bhutan government to respect fundamental rights of its citizens and allow freedom of movement and assembly to its citizens as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
(Source: Nepalnews.com,January 23, 2009)