69-year-old on hunger strike for rights in Bhutan jail

March 1st, 2009 - 3:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Mar 1 (IANS) A 69-year-old political activist who has been behind bars in Bhutan since 2000 has begun a fast unto death demanding the release of all political prisoners.
N.L. Katwal, a senior leader of the Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front, began his hunger strike Friday in the Chemgang Central Jail in capital Thimphu, where he is serving a 13-year prison term, according to Afpa, the Bhutanese news network in exile.

The 69-year-old prisoner of Nepali origin is demanding the release of all political prisoners, repatriation of all ethnic Bhutanese who were forced to leave the Buddhist kingdom in 1990 and better conditions in Bhutan’s prisons.

Katwal was arrested nine years ago from Phuntsholing, a town on the India-Bhutan border, for taking part in a peaceful demonstration.

Bhutanese from south and eastern Bhutan say they are facing discrimination and state harassment due to their ethnic ancestry.

Thousands of people of Nepali origin were forced to flee Bhutan and are still living as homeless refugees in Nepal and India.

Though Bhutan, ruled by a royal dynasty, recently began holding elections as a precursor to greater democracy, it still refuses to allow the refugees to return home.

Katwal says fundamental human rights are still withheld from activists who fought for democracy and is asking the international community to take up their cause with the Bhutan government.

Another outlawed Bhutan party, the Druk National Congress, has issued a statement urging the international community - especially India - to take up the prisoner’s demands with Bhutan.

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