Convicted in Bhutan, Christian gets Protestant bishop support
by Kalpit Parajuli
For exiles, the ethnic Nepali Protestant’s conviction is just another example of the government’s policies against minorities and non-Buddhist religions. Protestant bishop says, the government “should at least maintain basic democratic freedoms and human rights”.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “This is the picture of Bhutanese suppression against religious freedom,” said Rev Narayan Sharma, Protestant bishop of Nepal. “We should condemn such undemocratic practices wherever they are,” he added. He was speaking about the case involving Prem Singh Gurung, an ethnic Bhutanese-Nepali Christian, who was sentenced to three years in prison for screening a movie about Christianity. “Bhutan,” the bishop said, “should at least maintain basic democratic freedoms and human rights.”

In 2006, Bhutan formally began a shift towards a democracy after centuries of absolute monarchy that banned all religions other than Buddhism and rejected all ethnic groups other than the Bhutanese.

The new constitution adopted in 2008 recognises freedom of religion for all Bhutanese, as long as the appropriate authorities are informed. Proselytising is outlawed however. The same is true for publishing Bibles, building Christian schools and allowing men and women religious into the country.

For more than 100,000 ethnic Nepali refugees, including more than 10,000 Christians, the new democratic dispensation has not changed things much. Between 977 and 199, they were subject to a virtual policy of ethnic cleansing.

Gurung’s conviction has outraged many in the refugee camps. For them, the court decision is just another example of government repression against ethnic Nepalis and non-Buddhists.

For Rijen Lama, a Christian Bhutanese refugee, “We should all unite regardless of religion and fight against Bhutanese suppression” of minorities.

Bhutanese authorities are expelling people who want freedom for the country, be they foreigners or Bhutanese nationals, Tek Nath Rijal, a senior Bhutanese refugee leader, said. “This is how many are becoming refugees.” For him, the international community should do something to stop these atrocities.