HRW urges Bhutan to free political prisoners jailed for decades

New Delhi, Mar 14 (EFE).- Nonprofit Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged the Bhutanese government to release dozens of political prisoners who have been behind bars for decades, having been convicted in cases filed before democracy was established in the country in 2008.

HRW compiled a list of 37 convicts, most of them serving life sentences, who were arrested between 1990 and 2010, although the group said that the total number of political prisoners in the country was unknown.

“Bhutanese courts convicted and imposed long sentences on peaceful political and anti-discrimination activists and others arrested for a range of alleged national security offenses,” the NGO said in a statement.

Bhutan, sandwiched between India and China, transitioned in 2008 from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democracy with the King serving as the head of the state, after Jigme Khesar Wangchuck ascended the throne.

HRW alleged that the political prisoners – officially put in the category by a draconian law that penalizes crimes against “King, country and people” – were convicted after being “severely tortured” to obtain confessions.

“Bhutan’s publicly promoted principle of ‘Gross National Happiness’ doesn’t account for these wrongfully convicted political prisoners who have been behind bars for decades,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s South Asia director.

As of now, most of the prisoners remain in isolation in prisons with poor conditions, “with many suffering physical or psychosocial (mental health) ailments, and are denied regular communication with their families,” according to the rights group.

The prisoners listed by HRW belong to communities other than the politically and culturally dominant Ngalop ethnicity of Bhutan, as 32 of the 37 are Nepali-speaking citizens and the rest from a community that mainly lives in the eastern part of the country.

In the later years of the 1990s, the Bhutanese government carried out a violent campaign that forced around 100,000 Nepali-speaking people to flee to neighboring Nepal, with a large number of these refugees being relocated to third countries between 2008 and 2015. EFE


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