Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Does he mean right to expression is under threat?

A friend of mine informed that a youth, of 20s, who just came from Bhutan, was inside refugee camps in Nepal to see his relatives. Though I was busy with hectic schedules, while during my last visit to refugee camps in the first week of January, I immediately rushed to catch him. As a new media practitioner I was carrying all necessary equipments that journalists carry.

I met him; he scared with me. During the introduction he just said he is 'Mahesh' from India. I wondered why he denied revealing his true identity. My friend who was accompanying me during the meet, however, convinced 'Mahesh' that I was a simple guy and that he need not have to worry.

'Mahesh' laughs--not internally as I still guess.

Later 'Mahesh' admitted that he is Bhim Bahadur, name still withheld in his request, from one of the southern districts in Bhutan. A driver by profession, 'Mahesh' then wished talking to me though not as a journalist.

During the about-45-minute long talks with him I learned many things, most of which I dared relating to 'freedom of speech and expression'.

Freedom of speech and expression is one of the fundamental rights of a citizen, of course, not guaranteed while in the context of Bhutan.

"Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship or limitation. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes used to denote not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. It is guarded by the Article 19 under Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Read more on this "

The conversation with 'Mahesh' began with how updated he was in regard to political changes in the country. The only thing he remembers is the 'March election'.

Did you vote in the election?
'Yes', he answered with quite a trembling voice as if to mean he didn’t.

As soon I throw the next question he asked me if I am a journalist. This is because during the introduction I had not disclosed that I am a media guy.

Soon then the talks turned the other side; a sense of nervousness from his facial expression was distinctly read.

He says "I CAN'T SPEAK ANYTHING NOW. IF BHUTAN GOVERNMENT KNOWS THAT I AM SPEAKING AGAINST IT THEN……" He shook hands with me and said he was busy and can't talk more.

Anyways, the last-sentence he spoke to me was meaningful with some significant messages.

Here is what i concluded;

- Bhutan government still controls public's right to speech and expression
- People fear to speak against the government even when the latter is wrong
- There is not much change despite holding of the general election, which government says it paved a way for people's democracy.

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