Prisoners begin fast unto death in Bhutan

March 9th, 2009 - 5:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, March 9 (IANS) Ten people, including an exiled journalist, have begun a fast unto death in Bhutan’s Chemgang Central Jail from Monday, a media organisation said.
The Association of Press Freedom Activists, a Bhutanese media group in exile, said that its former reporter Shantiram Acharya and nine other rights activists of Nepali origin have begun the protest after the Bhutan government forced a 69-year-old prisoner to break his hunger strike.

Acharya, who wrote for The Bhutan Reporter, a monthly published in exile in Nepal and was stationed in the refugee camps in eastern Bhutan where over 100,000 ethnic Bhutanese have been living since their expulsion from Bhutan nearly two decades ago, was arrested in southern Bhutan in January 2006 for taking photographs of an army camp and charged for carrying out subversive activities against the state.

The nine other prisoners on hunger strike with him were sentenced to long jail terms by the high court during the period of absolute monarchy.

They are Sup Prakash Rai, Om Nath Adhikari, Karenda Kheder, Govinda Nerula, Chatra Bhadur Tamang, Ram Bahadur Chamling, Kumar Gautam, Sukman Mongar and Hastha Rai.

N.L. Katwal, a political activist who was arrested during a demonstration and jailed for 13 years in 2000 had started a fast unto death since Feb 27, demanding the release of all political prisoners.

Doctors force-fed him Saturday, the media group said.

The current protesters are demanding the institution of an independent judiciary to look into their case again along with the demands put forward by Katwal.

They say that even after the adoption of a constitution in July last year, Bhutan has not accorded them fundamental human rights. Also, though the Buddhist kingdom now has a new king who is regarded as more progressive and liberal, the government continues to deny them access to counsel to fight their cases, the prisoners say.

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