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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read this write-up well and it really touched my sentiments. Such a situation in Bhutan?