Ram Bahadur Rai, a Bhutanese political prisoner released after around 32 years in prison

The Global Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan (GCRPPB) has today announced that one of the long-term Bhutanese political prisoners, Mr Ram Bahadur Rai, was released from Chemgang Central Prison in Thimphu after 31 years and ten months of rigorous imprisonment and reached the Bhutanese refugee camp in Beldangi, Nepal, on 7 July 2024. 

In a statement released today, GCRPPB stated that Mr Ram Bahadur Rai, a 66-year-old Bhutanese citizen born in Taklai Bhutan, was released from Chemgang Central Prison in Thimphu, Bhutan, on 5 July 2024 after serving 31 years and ten months of prison sentence. Mr Rai was a Bhutanese citizen living as a UNHCR-registered Bhutanese refugee in Beldangi-1 sector c. Still, later, he was arrested while distributing political leaflets in Bhutan and later sentenced to prison under the National Security Act of 1992, labelling him as a traitor.

Political Prisoner Mr Rai was dumped in the neighbouring Indian town of Jaigaon on the same day of his release at 11 PM, rejecting his repeated request that he be allowed to stay in Bhutan for at least a week to meet his relatives and friends. Mr Rai said that he was forced to pay a sum of 5000 Bhutanese currency Ngultrum to the escorting police officers for their compensation of the day. Later, they handed him over to an Indian citizen, Raju Magar, who received him from the Indian side of the border and made arrangements to stay that night in India. Due to the flood situation in India, he could not travel towards Nepal on 6 July, and thus, he entered Nepal on 7 July 2024 after staying one more night in Jaigaon. Mr Raju Magar escorted him to the Indian town of Panitanki, where Mr Rai paid 3000 Indian rupees for his help. Initially, Indian security officials at Panitanki restricted him from entering Nepal. Still, with the effort of his son-in-law, who was gone to receive him from Beldangi and by showing his ration card and other documents, they allowed him to enter under the condition that he would not be allowed to come to India in future. 

The statement further said that Mr Rai reached the Bhutanese refugee camp in Beldangi, Nepal, on the evening of 7 July 2024 and now lives with his daughter Ganga and her family. “He is tired and sick of his years of torture in the Bhutanese prison. He said that he was too unfortunate and shocked to find that his beloved wife, Mrs Laxi Maya Rai, had already expired in her camp’s hut sometime in 2009,” read the statement. 

After the brutal crushing of the peaceful movement for Human Rights and Democracy in Bhutan during the 1990s, more than one-sixth of the country’s population was forcefully evicted from Bhutan, and hundreds of peaceful human rights activists were arrested. In due course of time, a Bhutanese refugee camp was established in Nepal after India pushed them further into Nepal. During the course of time, Bhutanese refugees organised several peaceful movements to return back to Bhutan from Nepal but failed; instead, several of those activists were arrested and imprisoned for life on a charge of violating its National Security Act. 

Several of those political prisoners were released due to immense international pressure, but several dozen are still in prison. The findings published by the New York-based Human Rights Watch have successfully verified a total of 35 Bhutanese political prisoners in various jails in Bhutan, and with the release of Mr Ram Bahadur Rai, a total of 34 of them are still in prison. As per Mr Ram Bahadur Rai, the situation of those in prison is very pathetic, with insufficient food, medicine and other facilities, but he said there is no physical torture given to any of them at present. 

Mr Damber Singh Pulami, Mr Gangaram Dhakal, Mr Nanda Lal Basnet, Mr Govinda Nirola, and Mr Omnath Adhikari have been suffering from various chronic sicknesses in Chemgang Central Prisons for several years, said Mr Rai, who appealed to every justice-loving person, including the international community, to work towards their timely release. 

GCRPPB appeals to His Majesty the King of Bhutan and the Royal Government of Bhutan to release all the remaining political prisoners safely and without further delay. GCRPPB also appeals to the justice-loving friends of Bhutan worldwide and the international community to convince Bhutan to free all its political prisoners and allow them to live the rest of their lives with their families and loved ones in peace and freedom. 

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