In 2006, the Government of Bhutan began promoting democracy after centuries of absolute monarchy in which all religions other than Buddhism were banned. The new constitution of 2008 recognised freedom of religion for all Bhutanese, on the condition that the authorities are informed. Proselytising is banned however. The same is true for publishing Bibles, building Christian schools or sending foreign religious into the country. Thus, despite its claim to democracy, the kingdom is constantly criticised for violating human rights, especially those of political dissidents and members of ethnic minorities.
On Saturday, Bhutanese representatives participated in the first conference on human rights in South Asia organised by the South Asians for Human Rights. They included Tek Nath Rizal, leader del Bhutanese People's Party, who complained about the serious situation in his country. On that occasion, he called on the international community to put pressure on Bhutanese authorities to release Gurung and stop pursuing the other two Christians.
“Bhutan is multiethnic and multilingual state. Twenty-two languages are spoken. Sadly, the government has imposed one official language, ‘dzongkha’, and one religion, Kagyurpa Buddhism. Hinduism, Christianity and even Nyingmapa Buddhism have been suppressed.
According to the dissident, in predominantly Nepali areas in southern Bhutan local schools were seized by the government in the early 1990s. They now lay in ruins. The few children who can attend public schools are forced to learn in the government-imposed language, practice the official religion and follow its traditions.
Courts are also in dzongkha only, Rizal said, and defenders are not provided with an interpreter if they are unable to speak.
Political dissidents are victims of torture in prison as well. In addition, more than 80,000 Nepali Bhutanese have been languishing for more than ten years in refugee camps located on the border with Nepal.
“Given the level of oppression of innocent people, Bhutan cannot be said to be a democracy, ever,” Rizal said. “It has failed to address the issue of political prisoners, many of whom have been tortured. And yet, the regime has tried to fool the international community using the term democracy.”