The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Monday, January 12, 2009



Man detained for eight months on suspicion, allegedly denied food and water, handcuffed throughout, and punched on ribcage says he has nothing against the police

Man detained for eight months on suspicion, allegedly denied food and water, handcuffed throughout, and punched on ribcage says he has nothing against the police

Jan 11, 2009-Thimphu: A week after the parliament discussed humane treatment of prisoners, a man who languished eight months in police lockup on suspicion charges is opening up about his plight.

Gyeltshen, a mechanic at the National Resource Development Corporation Ltd. in Thimphu, who was on a visit to his wife’s village at Ladrong in Lhuentse, was arrested on April 22 last year as the police suspected he stole religious artifacts from a private lhakhang nearby.

To make him confess to the crime, Gyeltshen said he was not given food or water for about a week though the recently passed Prison Act states every prisoner should be provided three square meals a day.

When he thought he would die of thirst and could not get a drop of water Gyeltshen knew he had no other way.

“I drank my urine,” he said.

“I don’t know what the police procedures are for detaining and punishing the suspects, but, what is done is done,” said the father of six who has almost resigned to the pain and humiliation he went through for a crime he did not commit.

The police chief, Colonel Kipchu Namgyel, said, under section 165 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code the police make arrests with or without warrant based on circumstances. “There are no limitations for time period on detention; usually it is up to 90 days but based on the circumstances, it can go on for more days.”

Gyeltshen lives in Thimphu while his wife lives in Phuentsholing with their six children.

The 35-year-old, whose five children in Phuentsholing had to leave school because he was in the cell, says he has nothing against the police.

He just wants the lhakhang caretaker who told the police that he suspected him in the theft to be charged. Gyeltshen has filed a case at the Lhuentse Court against the caretaker.

Between May 15 and 22 last year, Gyeltshen said he was handcuffed from the back, and a stick was placed horizontally from arm to arm. The stick was then tied to the ceiling. “I received four slaps and six blows on my left ribcage from the police,” said Gyeltshen.

On May 23, Gyeltshen’s wife was also arrested suspecting her as an accomplice. While under detention, the wife had to work as a laborer for the construction of police quarters.

However, Colonel Kipchu Namgyel said the police don’t manhandle the public. “If anyone proves that he/she was tortured by the police then I will take it up legally,” he said.

After the stolen artifacts were recovered in December last year, Gyeltshen and his family were released on December 22 after the police found no substantial evidence against him.

With no money in hand, and increasing debts including house rent, Gyeltshen returned to Thimphu, still bearing the handcuff marks on his wrists.

The Prison Bill states that someone under trial can be handcuffed while being transferred from one place to another as he can become violent, pose risks of injury to self and others, or abscond.

Colonel Kipchu Namgyel said suspects involved in crimes against national security and for stealing religious artifacts are handcuffed for security reasons.

What is worrying Gyeltshen now is not his honor or the time he had to spend in prison. He is concerned whether the school where his five children studied will take them back as they have lost classes for months.

Asked about the Lhuentse officer in-charge who arrested Gyeltshen, the police chief said he is on training outside the country.

“He is a smart and judicious officer,” said Colonel Kipchu Namgyel.

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