10/21/2010, 00.00
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Bhutan: Christian sentenced to three years for proselytizing

Singh Gurung, an ethnic Nepali Protestant Christian, was arrested in June for projecting a film about Jesus in two rural villages. Accused of trying to promote civil unrest.

Timphu (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A Bhutanese court has sentenced to three years in prison Prem Singh Gurung, an ethnic Nepali Protestant Christian, for having shown a film with Christian content. He is charged with "attempted promotion of civil unrest." The ruling dates from October 6 and the national newspaper Kuensel only reported the news October 18.

Originally from Sarpang (South Bhutan), Gurung was arrested four months ago, when some villagers from Gonggaon and Smikharkha (Jigmecholin district) reported him for showing them movies with a Christian theme.

During the trial judges accused Gurung of "trying to promote civil unrest," because they had no evidence to support the crime of disturbing public order. The man was also charged with violation of the Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Act, the 2006 law that provides for an examination by the authorities of films intended for public showing.

Since 2006, the Bhutanese government has begun to promote democracy, after centuries of absolute monarchy that prohibited the practice of religions other than Buddhism. The new constitution enacted in 2008 provides for freedom of faith for all Bhutanese, after reporting to the authorities. However, it is forbidden to proselytize and the publication of Bibles, the building of Christian schools and entry onto national soil of religious is banned. Still today Christians are forced to practice their faith in private. In July, the government proposed a change in the penal code that discourages proselytizing and conversion to religions other than Buddhism through coercion and other forms of detention. Gurung's condemnation has sparked new controversy against Christians in the country, however, disputed by Bhutanese living abroad who see religious intolerance promoted by the government as an attack on the new democratic regime.

In recent days, the Kuensel published an article by Sona Ongmo, a Bhutanese women living in New York, who describing herself as "an aspiring Buddhist”, has condemned the arrest of Gurung and the tactics proselytizing used by Protestant Christians. Ongmo calls on the government to be tolerant of religions other than Buddhism and emphasizes that in a democratic country people should have the right to choose and practice their faith.

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