The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Prisoners of the dragon kingdom T. P. MISHRA

How does it sound when we hear that political prisoners inside jails are mentally tortured with the help of mind control devices? But this is a fact-based saga in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Senior human rights leader Tek Nath Rizal is one among the many unknown political prisoners who have suffered brutal torture inflicted by this banned device. From a medical point of view, mind control devices have a direct and bad impact on the brain. Rizal says that one who has been subjected to this gadget will at once become nervous. Other kinds of physical torture will not be felt until consciousness is regained.
The book entitled Bhutan: Hijo Ra Aaja by Balaram Poudel, president of the Bhutan People's Party (BPP), also provides a good illustration of how cruel Bhutanese jails are. It is stated in Poudel's book that before 1992, the Bhutanese authorities stressed inflicting physical punishment on prisoners. According to this book, Dharma Raj Gurung and Padam Dhakal from Dagana district died in jail due to excessive physical torture in 1991. It adds that the whereabouts of Dhakal’s dead body is still unknown.

Not only this, the accurate figure of those who died in jail due to extreme physical torture before and after 1991 has never been made public. In comparison to the early 1990s, the Bhutanese authorities now opt for giving mental instead of physical punishment to political prisoners. This is an attention-grabbing concern as mental punishment has a long-term impact on the sufferer.

We can take yet another example of the saga of a political prisoner in a Bhutanese jail. On Nov. 1, the Druk authorities released Dhan Kumar Rai, 45, founding general secretary of the BPP and an outstanding Bhutanese personality, after 17 years of rigorous imprisonment. Rai says he was kept in solitary confinement for one year.

Rai, generally referred to as the Bhutanese Mandela, is now in Kathmandu for medical treatment for the excessive mental torture he suffered. Rai claims he was mentally tortured in jail for more than a decade. Arrested at Todey in Darjeeling, India on Nov. 17, 1991, he was later handed over to Bhutanese police on the fake charge of being involved in anti-national campaigns. He now suffers from a psychiatric problem due to extreme mental torture.

Many Druk prisoners who have been released say that the most painful physical punishment they faced was having the tips of the fingers pricked with needles.

They also had stones suspended by strings to their private parts. This kind of physical torture is very common in Bhutanese jails.

Hundreds of political prisoners are still believed to be languishing in Bhutanese jails, and their latest status has never been made public. Here arise some significant questions. Where are the international human rights bodies? What is the international community doing to protect the rights of prisoners in Bhutanese jails? Where are the so-called international advocacy groups? How long will India, the world's biggest democracy, remain a mute spectator to the ongoing atrocities in Bhutan? What are those countries that hailed the so-called democratic practice in Bhutan doing? Have the jails in Bhutan ever been visited by any international rights group? These questions still remain unanswered.

However, the role of the International Red Cross Society (ICRC) is worth mentioning here. The ICRC has been actively campaigning for the release of political prisoners in Bhutanese jails. Rai admits that he was released thanks to the heavy and constant pressure the ICRC put on the Druk authorities. But the endeavours of the ICRC alone is not enough to discourage the atrocities being committed in Bhutanese jails.

Bhutan's repeated claims that it has already embarked on a democratic path are nothing but a ploy to hoodwink the international community. There is no independent judiciary in the country, and a fair trial is always doubtful. The fact that Rai was imprisoned for almost 17 years without any justifiable reason serves as a good example.

“Silent state terrorism” still prevails in this tiny kingdom. Freedom of speech is completely restricted. People cannot speak against the government or the monarchy, the so-called supreme institution. The international community should not be duped by Bhutan's illogical concept of having Gross National Happiness in the country. It should always read between the lines of Bhutan's tricky statements.

(The author is editor of the Bhutan News Service and head of the Bhutan Chapter of Dhaka-based Third World Media Network.)

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