Journalist under threat in Bhutan

Freedom of expression and independence of media in Bhutan is under attack while Bhutanese journalist face threat to their profession as authorities continue to subdue voices against them.

The national body of the Bhutanese media personnel ‘Journalist Association of Bhutan’ (JAB) remains silent to all the atrocities on journalists and undue pressure on media to write any negative behaviour of those in power.

JAB remains silent to all atrocities in fear of loosing government assistance since all of its activities are sponsored by the government grants. And the authorities very well know how to tame them. JAB fear come from the experience many newspapers in Bhutan faced a few year back – government cutting any advertisement to those who are critical of the government and virtually pushing them to death. Many media outlets died from that action.

In the recent two prominent issues of violation of the freedom of expression, JAB remain silent and without their any support, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) remained mere spectator to the continued threats Bhutanese journalists have been facing.

In one instance, the journalist was forced to flee the country while in the latest episode a journalists for jailed for three months. JAB and other international organisations established to voice promote independent media, freedom of expression and security of journalists remained silent.

In the latest incidence, a journalist has been sentenced to three-months in jail for a Facebook post in which she raised concerns about fate of children at the hands of abusive step mother. The Kuensel reporter was sentenced to prison on August 6 on libel charges by a district court.

The reporter had written about a woman mistreating her six-year-old stepdaughter on Facebook from her personal account in June last year.

The post went viral on social media prompting police and district authority representatives from relevant agencies, including RENEW, to visit the woman’s place for investigation.

The reporter was given option to pay in lieu of prison term. Additionally the court ordered the journalist to pay Nu 45,000 (USD 650) in compensation to the victim and to post an apology statement to the victim on Facebook and keep it for a month.

The journalist was dragged to court in August last year by Royal Bhutan Police.

The reporter told the court that a reliable source came to the Kuensel bureau office asking her if she can do a story on child abuse. Since it was Saturday which is an off day for Kuensel, she wrote it on Facebook to alert the relevant organisations. The Facebook post did not name neither the abusive step mother nor the victim.

The Kuensel, who employed the reporter also denied publishing the news of the abusive step mother. The paper also disengaged in defending her in the court.

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