Friday, January 23, 2009

IFJ Calls for Leniency for Shantiram

Kathmandu, January 23: The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said it is worried at the Bhutan High Court’s sentencing of journalist Shanti Ram Acharya to a prison term of seven-and-a-half years on terrorism charges.

In a statement issued on Friday, IFJ said, Acharya, 20, lived in refugee camps in Nepal since he and his immediate family were exiled from Bhutan in 1991 as part of a mass transfer of ethnic Nepalis. He worked for the Bhutan Reporter and Bhutan Jagaran, newspapers published by Bhutanese exiles in Nepal.

The statement further reads, Acharya was reportedly active in non-violent political activity and participated in a two-week long program of protests in Kathmandu, Nepal, just before leaving for Bhutan.

He was arrested in January 2007 while visiting relatives in Bhutan.

“Acharya’s conviction is reportedly based on statements he allegedly made to police while in custody between January 16 and March 16 last year. These statements were reportedly recounted by him in open court, although press freedom groups are unconvinced that the judicial proceedings were either fair or fully comprehensible to the accused, who is an ethnic Nepali,” IFJ said.

“The IFJ urges Bhutan’s authorities to take a humanitarian view of the case of Acharya and review the harsh sentence imposed on him,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
The IFJ joined APFA and other press freedom groups in calling on Bhutan authorities to make public Acharya’s whereabouts and the conditions in which he is being held, and in urging a review in which Acharya is provided with access to an independent lawyer.

Acharya is accused of involvement in subversive activities against Bhutan and alleged links to a Maoist group, though the communist group denied any link. He was fallen victim to a draconian law which criminalizes the return of exiles to Bhutan.

Source: Bhutan News Service

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