Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reporters Without Borders condemns threat to journos

Two Bhutani journalists threatened with death by political activists for covering student demonstration
Date: 22 May 2008
Source: Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Person(s): Ichha Poudel, Arjun Pradhan
Target(s): journalist(s)
Type(s) of violation(s): threatened
Urgency: Flash
(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the death threats made in a refugee camp in eastern Nepal on 16 May 2008 by members of the Communist Party of Bhutan Marxist-Leninist Maoist (CPB-MLM) against journalists working for the Bhutan News Service (BNS: http://, a website operated by the Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA), a Bhutani exile organisation.

The incident took place during a student demonstration organised by the CPB-MLM in Beldangi-1, a camp operated by the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee organisation, near Nepal's eastern border.

CPB-MLM leaders accused BNS reporter Ichha Poudel of recording speeches and taking photos although he had no microphone or camera. Party members expelled him and his BNS colleague, Arjun Pradhan, from the meeting, threatened to kill them and followed them to their homes.

The APFA, which campaigns for press freedom in Bhutan, condemned the incident and called on political parties to respect the rights of journalists.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Threatened Media

It is one of the widely-accepted concerns that the media and human rights activities should not be obstructed from any third parties as they are essential to promote democratic values in the society. Any attempts to disrupt smooth functioning of media would be a crime because it bars individual from exercising their right to information.

The long-intimidated media sector operating inside Bhutanese refugee camps is yet to gain ‘independency’ following continuous threats from various groups including the underground outfits. Of late, the situation further worsened when Birat-led faction of Communist Party of Bhutan (CPB-MLM) started to threaten journalists inside refugee camps who are working as major sources of information.

Cadres of the CPB-MLM verbally issued death threats to Ichha K. Poudel, the associate editor of Bhutan News Service (BNS), the only news agency run by all independent Bhutanese journalists in exile in Nepal on May 16 accusing him of spying against their underground activities. Issuing a joint press statement after the incident, three major organizations viz Association of Press Freedom Activists, Bhutan Press Union and the Bhutan Chapter of Third World Media Network strongly defied the MLM’s baseless allegation.

The joint press statement speaks of the fact that Poudel was never involved in such a low-profiled activity that the MLM claimed. This is not the first time that the MLM, which has already declared armed rural class struggle in Bhutan, issued threats to independent journalists inside refugee camps. This underground outfit frequently alleges journalists in exile being advocator for third country resettlement.

Such allegations are illogical and baseless as all independent journalists in exile seem conscious of their commitment towards practicing ‘ethical and impartial journalism’ under their mission to advocate for the establishment of complete free press in Bhutan.Poudel along with one camp-based local correspondent for the BNS, Arjun Pradhan were even displaced from their temporary huts in camp for a couple of days with increasing threats from the cadres of the MLM. Later on, when the MLM cadre involved in the incident apologies before Poudel and Pradhan following pressure from the media groups, the situation turned quite normal thereby at least creating so-assumed secure atmosphere for these two journalists.

But, the two-tongued policy of the MLM still confuses refugee media activists for their safety and security. Such condemning acts from the party cadres should be immediately stopped by the MLM to ensure that it respects press freedom.

On the other side, this leaves a doubt as to whether the MLM is trying to bring the law on its hands despite the presence of camp management committee along with other several authorities of the government of Nepal. It is because no groups inside refugee camps can have legal right to bar independent journalists from their reporting duties.

If the MLM is truly fighting for the establishment of people’s democracy in Bhutan, I challenge it through this write-up to impose such allegations upon journalists inside Bhutan who are wholeheartedly supporting the absolute regime and restrict them from reporting. But the MLM’s disgraceful attempt to obstruct smooth functioning of media sector in exile would, in no means help build-up the party’s credibility within the public.

These days media sector operating inside refugee camps, in particular BNS has established itself as one of the best sources to disseminate balanced, impartial, accurate and credible information on Bhutanese refugees., a news portal run by the BNS which is visited by at least 2,000 viewers on daily-basis around the globe has become one of the major sources of first-hand-information-sharing even to the UNHCR including other several authorities concerned.

Thus, it’s the responsibility of even the UNHCR to opt for necessary measures to create conducive and secured atmosphere for Bhutan’s journalists in exile to help them operate independent media sector without being intimated.

Besides, the law of the host state, Nepal does not adequately entertain operation of independent media houses by any foreigners in the country. This law in itself sounds vague in the context of Bhutanese media sector in exile in Nepal because these media practitioners are working on no-profit basis. It won’t make much difference if the government of Nepal amends such laws therewith provisions to guarantee at least legal status and identification to exiled Bhutanese journalists who work on no-profit foundation.

This particular initiative from the government of Nepal is sure to minimize all sorts of harassment upon Bhutan’s journalists in exile as they would then have an authentic ‘recognition’. Here, the role of Federation of Nepalese Journalists, a member organization of the International Federation of Journalists is significant as it is the umbrella organization of journalists in Nepal, also where exiled Bhutanese journalists are languishing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

BNS associate editor threatened for life

May 18, 2008: Cadres of the Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxist Leninist Maoist) – faction led by Birat – threatened to kill associate editor of Bhutan News Service Ichha Poudel on Friday, May 16.

Poudel who was invited to a program organized by party in Beldangi I camp threatened for his life alleging him of recording the speech delivered in the function and taking pictures.

Poudel had only mobile phone, not either voice recorder or camera.

The party cadres forcefully pulled him to stage and asked him to clarify his intention. After Poudel identified himself as journalists associated with Bhutan News Service, he was again thrashed out of stage alleging him of confiscating the microphone without authority.

When he came out of the program, the communist cadres followed him. Fearing insecurity, he lived with relatives in another camp.

The communist cadres also threatened to take ‘stern action’ against Arjun Pradhan, local reporter for Bhutan News Service. Pradhan also attended the function along Poudel.

Several cadres reached the residents of Pradhan and Poudel in the evening threatening the family members.

In a joint statement, Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) Bhutan, Bhutan Press Union and Third World Media Network (TWMN) Bhutan Chapter strongly condemned the actions of CPB (MLM) and urged the assailants to respect the rights of journalists. They also asked party not to repeat such behavior in future.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Media to monitor government functioning: Bhutan PM

Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigme Y. Thinley has said the media and people of the Himalayan kingdom would play the role of a watchdog to monitor the performance of the government in the absence of a formidable opposition in parliament.
“Our government would be transparent and accountable, and the media would play an important role to provide check and balance to the government,” the prime minister said while addressing the first joint session of parliament here. “Media’s role would be important and we’ll support and promote media.”

The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan held its first parliament session Thursday after the isolated Buddhist nation shifted from monarchy to democracy following elections held in March.

There are just two opposition members in the 47 member National Assembly or the lower house in parliament. Forty-five are from the ruling Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party that won a landslide victory against its only rival, the People’s Democratic Party. Thinley said the government’s priorities would be to work towards boosting the economy, besides generating employment and mitigating the woes of the poor.

“To alleviate poverty, we need to boost our economy and to do that we have to develop our private sector. We have to look for all means to create employment,” the prime minister said.

This is the first time that the lawmakers met at the renovated parliament in capital Thimphu after Bhutan made a historic transition from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy. During the next few weeks the lawmakers are expected to endorse the draft constitution, besides five bills of election, constitution, national assembly, national council and parliamentary entitlement.

According to Kuensel, Bhutan’s national newspaper, the parliament has an inverted C-shaped seating arrangement with seats raised by about six inches from the front row.

“Seating MPs face to face gives an air of aggressiveness. Therefore, to ensure harmony and discourage animosity during assembly meetings, opposition and ruling party MPs will be seated on either side of the Speaker without much partition and many empty spaces between them,” the Kuensel said.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

New services for internet users

Thimphu, May 06: On Monday, in a public function, information minister Nanda Lal Rai made video call to minister for works and human settlement Yeshey Zimba.

It was the inaugural ceremony of Bhutan Telecom’s new commercial service – 3G GPRS and EDGS that enhanced the internet access of the Bhutanese people.

Speaking on the occasion, Rai expressed hope that with the advancement in technology and its use in Bhutan will bring positive change in Bhutanese society.

The mobile users can now use the services by paying up to Nu 500 as activation charge and monthly charges ranging from Nu. 200-500.

Chief of BT Thinley Dorji said the company is committed to providing new services to its customers.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Guarantee Media Freedom: Joint Press Statement

May 3, 2008: International Press Freedom DayDespite first general elections held in Bhutan recently, state of press freedom and freedom of speech and expression is in sorry state. We are very much concerned with the tactics RGBO has been playing in not ensuring press freedom in a new democratic set up of the country.

The parliament scheduled to begin its first session on May 8 is expected to endorse the constitution that has a number of provisions curtailing the freedom of press and freedom of speech and expression. But, we welcome RGOB’s decision to permit to limited foreign journalists to report recently-concluded general election situation.

We believe that democracy would never foster unless the state guarantees free press where people would adequately exercise their right to speech and expression, now seen at risk in Bhutan. Right to information is a distant object for the Bhutanese nationals. The private media houses, journalists working in them and media organizations (SAFMA Bhutan chapter is only one for now) have done not enough in unveiling the curtailment in right to information, right to speech.

The private newspapers are compelled to be self-censored and thus appear sympathetic to the government's foreign policies including its stance on Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal. Until the constitution comes into effect, Bhutanese press will be guided by the 1992 National Security Act, which forbids any criticism of the country's political affairs and the monarch.

We strongly urge the RGOB to review its media policies with complete guarantee of freedom of speech and expression.

The whereabouts of Shantiram Acharya of Bhutanese refugee camp, Beldangi-II, Sector ‘D’ Hut no- 85, associated with The Bhutan Reporter Monthly and Jagaran Fortnightly arrested on January 24, 2006 at Tashilakha under Chhuka district (South West Bhutan) by Royal Bhutan Army still remains unknown. We call upon international rights and press freedom bodies to exert adequate pressure on Druk regime on revising its legal and constitutional provisions that envision a democratic Bhutan where everyone will be guaranteed with freedom of speech and expression.

I.P. Adhikari (President- Association of Press Freedom Activists Bhutan)
T. P. Mishra (President – Third World Media Network, Bhutan Chapter)

Friday, May 2, 2008


By: T. P. Mishra
At a time when media professionals and press freedom practitioners are celebrating ‘World Press Freedom Day, May 3’ around the globe quite blissfully, Bhutanese people are worried of exercising even their fundamental right to free speech and expression in the country. The long-practiced curtailment on this right from the absolute Druk oligarchy still prevails in the country.

The tiny Himalayan kingdom, popularly known at international arena for floating the fabricated concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’, always tries to remain isolated from guaranteeing individual’s freedom of speech and expression. To say Bhutanese people are deprived of their right to information is an understatement. But, this is a reality-based logic after having assessed to the current situation prevailing inside Bhutan.

Bhutanese regime has already held general election in the name that the absolute monarch would step down to democratic and constitutional ‘King’ in the country. Nevertheless, one way or the other, the steering to run the government would always be controlled by the King himself. Many big democracies of the world including the United States and India have already rushed to hail the democratization process.

Main concern of the hour is whether Thimphu’s wish to step in democratization process becomes a matter of ‘praiseworthy’ to world communities when they are aware of the fact that press freedom in the country remains farce. How can democracy be believed to have fostered in country where people are strictly underprivileged from their right to speech and expression? Those countries that are extending their sincere support for so-called democratization process in Bhutan will have to take a long breathe and think of these facts before rushing behind absolute regime’s deceiving tactics.

Bhutanese people were not allowed even to raise questions during the election campaign hours. People in southern parts of the country, who wished if the party involved in campaigns would resolve ‘refugee issue’ after winning the election, were even reported to have received mental tortures.

Media houses operating inside the country feared bringing such issues to public as they are still strictly under the government control. And, a limited number of foreign journalists were permitted to cover elections. These facts adequately reveal that the recently-concluded election in Bhutan was not free and fair. And, this is simply because press freedom, that measures state of democracy, is not guaranteed in this country.

The relentless campaigns and efforts by pro-democracy Bhutanese, who favor guarantee of free press for the dawn of democracy, have always failed in awakening the Druk regime in guaranteeing media freedom in the country as the latter undermines it.

Sub-Article 5 under Article 7 of the draft constitution states ‘There shall be freedom of the press for radio, television and other forms of dissemination of information, including the electronic press’. Similarly, Sub-article 2 has spoken of citizen’s right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression and Sub-article 3 slot-in that a citizen shall have the right to information. But, the government does not allow its fellow citizens to exercise these rights though incorporated by the drafted constitution, followed by various restrictions in the same constitution.

Those people being critical to the government or King are else sentenced to imprisonment for years simply for the reason of exercising right to free expression. Isn’t such an act from the Druk regime a straightforward attempt to encroach the individual’s fundamental rights to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) under Article 19?

Even today, many foreign channels are banned. There is much to be done by the international rights and press freedom bodies for the establishment of democracy with true guarantee of free press in Bhutan. Simply publicizing media-situation reports or issuing just press releases would pave no way for media freedom in this tiny Himalayan kingdom as absolutism still imprisons the country.

The other matter of concern is that Bhutan should not be left to continue practicing different schemes of atrocities with complete curtailment on media freedom. Rulers in Bhutan should admit the fact that ‘democracy in absence of free press carries no meaning and significance in actuality’. These can’t any compromise in guaranteeing free press where people will have a better environment to exercise their right to speech and expression that UDHR has guaranteed.

Discover Bhutan hits the stands

1 May, 2008 - Tourism has forayed into print with the launch of the country’s first travel magazine “Discover Bhutan” yesterday. The 100 glossy paged magazine aims to provide a platform for the tourism fraternity and the general public to highlight information and experiences, apart from enabling people to make the best choice of destination in Bhutan.

“It’s just another communication tool for those who don’t know about Bhutan and we want it to be a comprehensive tourism magazine that reaches the grass root level,” said the general secretary of the association of Bhutanese tour operators (ABTO).

Published by ABTO, in collaboration with Rabsell Media Services, the plan to produce such a magazine was there for two years, but it was not until last December that they actually started working on the first issue.

The first issue dedicates its tribute to Bhutan’s great leaders and includes articles on textiles, architecture, food, indigenous healing, environment and tourism. It also features regular information on Drukair’s import and export regulations and festival dates.

Chief editor Sangay Wangchuk told Kuensel that the journey to bringing out a magazine was challenging. He is keen to produce stories on one of its chapters - indigenous healing - by making them simpler to understand.

“We’re trying to connect our Bhutanese with the old traditions; they do have meaning and we have to understand the simplicity of our traditions.”

They aim to publish Discover Bhutan on a quarterly basis in the coming years. As of now, it’s distributed only in Thimphu and Paro.

“We plan to tie up with big organizations, that have outlets all over the country, so that the magazine reaches every part of Bhutan,” said marketing and research head Tshering Wangchuk.
A total of 5,000 copies were printed, of which 3,000 will be available in outlets in Thimphu. The outlets include restaurants, bookshops and a few hotels. Each copy costs Nu 100. The remaining copies will be distributed to tour operators in and outside Bhutan and at major travel trade fairs.
Discover Bhutan will be a bi-annual magazine. Their second issue will hit the stands in September.
By Sonam Pelden