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Friday, February 20, 2009

A beautiful lie or the ugly truth?

This Monday afternoon I packed a bag with teddy bears and went together with two exiled Bhutanese to Amsterdam Airport to receive their long awaited relatives. Me too felt the excitement as 33 tired but happy Bhutanese refugees quietly entered the arrival’s hall with IOM marked suitcases and young children in their arms. Their journey towards a new life had started in Kathmandu, Nepal several days ago. Emotionally, it has been a journey for seventeen years, and it is far from over yet.

These refugees are some of the 100,000 Bhutanese whose government refuse to acknowledge as citizens. They have been forced to reside in simple refugee camps in Nepal for almost twenty years with little opportunities to education, employment and medical care. Some of them are allowed resettlement in a third country they never heard of before. A small number of them are resettling in the Netherlands. 33 of them arrived this rainy Monday afternoon.

They are calm but also full of expectations about their new life in this new country. ‘ We are so happy to be here. We want to work hard and do our best to learn Dutch customs.’
A young, educated father looked my straight into my eyes with great anticipation: ‘Do you think we will have a good life here? Will our children be ok?’ Yes, of course I responded with as much optimism as I could manage. And I believe it. The Bhutanese are so full of desire, motivation and eager to integrate. Still, I feel guilty and a little worried as I hear the many stories of refugees that suffer sever traumas long after they are ‘integrated’. The experiences these people must endure in the near future should not be underestimated. Many arrive with great hopes for the future and are soon disillusioned.
But there is a place and time for such insights. The day of arrival is a time for celebration and optimism. I guess sometimes it is preferred to use a - somewhat modified - beautiful lie to a direct and ugly truth.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Young journalist sentenced in Bhutan

Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) is deeply concerned about the sentencing of journalist Shanti Ram Acharya (20), a correspondent of the The Bhutan Reporter. Mr Acharya has been sentenced for seven and a half years for alleged involvement in Maoist-related activities. However, such involvement is denied and the judgement is claimed to be politically motivated.

According to local sources, it was based on confessions obtained under torture, and the overall trial was inadequate and failed to comply with the most fundamental principles of due process. The case must be re-investigated to ensure that the fundamental rights of Mr Acharya are safeguarded.

Mr Acharya was a camp based correspondent for the monthly The Bhutan Reporter, published in exile from Nepal and funded by GHRD. It seeks to uphold and safeguard the people's right on information in the Bhutanese society.

In January 2007, on his way to visit his family, Shanti Ram Acharya was arrested and accused of entering Bhutan to ‘carry out terrorist activities’. He was taken to police custody where he was tortured and forced to confess the charges. The Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) claims that he was kept in secret detention for almost two months.

The Bhutanese High court found him "guilty of involvement in subversive activities" against Bhutan. He was also accused for participating in military training conducted by the Nepali chapter of Communist Party of Bhutan. (Banned party in Bhutan.) However, the Communist Party of Bhutan denied any link with Mr Acharya, saying in a press release this week that the jailed reporter was never a member of the party.

The trial is widely considered unfair, politically motivated and not fully comprehensible to the accused, who is an ethnic Nepali. In addition, Mr Acharya could not hire a lawyer to defend himself. It is of outmost concern to impose such harsh punishments on such dubious charges and under such circumstances.

GHRD joins The Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA), and International Federation for Journalists (IFJ) demanding the Bhutanese authorities to immediately take action to review the trial of Mr Acharya. The practice of torture is one of the most serious human rights crimes under which no derogation is allowed. No person, regardless whether he is a criminal or not, should be subjected to torture in any circumstances.
In particular, GHRD urges that

- The trial is reviewed and Mr Acharya is provided with an independent lawyer.
- The whereabouts and condition of Mr Acharya are closely monitored and made public.
- The serious allegations of torture are investigated and the perpetrators of such crimes punished
- Adequate compensation and legal assistance is granted Acharya for the damages caused.