Monday, January 26, 2009

GHRD takes our side

26 January 2009: The Netherlands-based Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) has shown deep concern about the unfair trial and sentencing of Bhutanese journalist Shanti Ram Acharya (20), a correspondent of The Bhutan Reporter, which is funded by GHRD. Press Statement

Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) is deeply concerned about the unfair trial and sentencing of Bhutanese journalist Shanti Ram Acharya (20), a correspondent of the The Bhutan Reporter, which is funded by GHRD.

Mr Acharya has been sentenced for seven and a half years for alleged involvement in Maoist-related activities. However, the judgement is claimed to be politically motivated, based on insufficient evidence and on confessions obtained under torture. The overall trial was inadequate and unfair and failed to comply with the most fundamental principles of due process. The case must be re-investigated to ensure that the fundamental rights of Mr Acharya are safeguarded.

Mr Acharya was a camp based correspondent for the monthly The Bhutan Reporter, published in exile from Nepal and funded by GHRD. It seeks to uphold and safeguard the people's right on information in the Bhutanese society.

In January 2007, after a visit to his family, Shanti Ram Acharya was arrested and accused of entering Bhutan to ‘carry out terrorist activities’. He was taken to police custody where he was tortured and forced to confess the charges. Acharya was produced before the court for a preliminary hearing only on March 16. His relatives and family members were not updated on the court proceedings.

The Bhutanese High court found him "guilty of involvement in subversive activities" against Bhutan. He was also accused for participating in military training conducted by the Nepali chapter of Communist Party of Bhutan. (Banned party in Bhutan.)

However, the Communist Party of Bhutan (CPB-MLM), denied any link with Mr Acharya in a
press release after his arrest, strongly refuted his affiliation to their party. The trial in itself is clearly unfair, politically motivated and it was not fully comprehensible to the accused, who is an ethnic Nepali. Mr Acharya could not afford to hire his own lawyer, and the Bhutanese court proceedings are never conducted in Nepalese language, neither are there Nepali speaking attorneys. Most documents are prepared in Dzongkha, which Mr Acharya, a Nepali speaking Bhutanese could not understand.

It is of outmost concern to impose such harsh punishments on these dubious charges and
under weak legal procedures.

In light of the above, GHRD joins The Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA), and International Federation for Journalists (IFJ) demanding the Bhutanese authorities to review the trial of Mr Acharya, and to ensure a new fair trial.

In particular, GHRD urges that

- The trial of Shanti Ram Acharya is reviewed and that he is provided with an
independent lawyer of his choice.
- The whereabouts and condition of Mr Acharya are closely monitored and made
- The serious allegations of torture are investigated and the perpetrators of
such crimes punished.
- Adequate compensation and legal assistance is granted Acharya for the damages

GHRD reiterates that the practice of torture is one of the most serious human rights crimes under which no derogation is allowed. No person, regardless whether he is a criminal or not, should ever be subjected to torture in any circumstances. Confessions obtained under torture should not constitute grounds for judgment.

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