Families demand immediate release of political prisoners in Bhutan – South Asia Time

Families demand immediate release of political prisoners in Bhutan

 February 22, 2024  

London – Families of political prisoners in Bhutan have demanded immediate release of their family members languishing in Bhutanese jails for the last several years.

On behalf of the families of Bhutanese political prisoners Mrs Damber Kumari Adhikari, mother of one of the political prisoners, Mr Omnath Adhikari, handed over an appeal to the visiting team leader Mrs Deekshya Illangasinghe, the Executive Director of South Asian for Human Rights (SAHR), a Colombo-based International Human Rights organisation.

Mrs Adhikari, who lives in one of the refugee camps at Beldangi in eastern Nepal, urged Mrs Illangasinghe to extend her support for the early release of all the Bhutanese political prisoners from  various prisons in Bhutan. The appeal, which Mr Ram Karki signed on behalf of families and in the capacity of the coordinator of Global Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan (GCRPPB), said 

 “As per the joint research done by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and GCRPPB, there are at present 35 Bhutanese political prisoners in the various prisons of Bhutan, and they are our beloved sons, fathers, brothers or husbands. Most of them are serving life sentences after they were arrested while engaging in political activities inside Bhutan between the years 1990 and 2008. With the dawn of democracy and constitutional monarchy in Bhutan in 2007, we expected that our relatives serving life sentences in Bhutan after being arrested for political reasons would be given amnesty. However, as decades passed, they continued to languish in prisons.”

“Most of us are already resettled in eight countries after living many years in refugee camps in Nepal. Most of us have successfully gained citizenship in the country where we are resettled. Others are in the process of acquiring one. Despite living in an economically developed country and having all the necessary amenities, we are always incomplete and emotionally desolate only because our close family members/relatives have been serving in Bhutan prisons. We have remained disconnected following our resettlement, after which ICRC stopped their family visit programme. Those in the jails are our dear husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and uncles, without whom it has become increasingly difficult to live a modest life, no matter where we live.” 

Therefore, we, with heavy hearts, request your good office to convince the King of Bhutan to use the constitutional Royal Prerogatives (per Article 2.16.c of the constitution of Bhutan) to provide amnesty to our most beloved family members. We would be ever grateful if our honest and sincere appeal is duly considered. Elderly parents are in the way of dying without their wishes to see the faces of their beloved sons 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, hoping to get opportunities to live the rest of their lives peacefully together”.

A three-member team from SAHR, under the leadership of its executive director, Deekshya Illangasinghe, visited the families of Bhutanese political prisoners and those recently released Bhutanese political prisoners in the Bhutanese refugee camp in Beldangi and listened to their agonies on 21 February 2024. Senior Nepalese journalist and an expert on the issue, Devendra Bhattarai, was also helping the SAHR team investigate and speak with the families and former prisoners. Former camp secretary of Beldangi refugee camp and a prominent Bhutanese refugee leader who advocates the repatriation of the Bhutanese refugees, DB Subba, recently released Bhutanese political prisoner  Madhukar Magar and few other families of political prisoners besides Damber Kumari Adhikari were present on the occasion.

Meanwhile, GCRPPB’s youth coordinator Srijana Sapkota participated and spoke on the issue of Bhutanese political prisoners at a discussion event on Bhutanese prisoners of conscience organised by SAHR as part of a World Social Forum 2024 in Kathmandu last week. Ms Sapkota also read the opening speech on behalf of GCRPPB’s coordinator Ram Karki as the event’s opening speaker. She sought the support of the international community towards GCRPPB’s effort to help release Bhutanese political prisoners without any delay.