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Ram Bahadur Rai, one of Bhutanese political prisoners, freed after 32 years 

Rai, a 66-year-old Bhutanese citizen born in Taklai, Bhutan, was released on July 5, 2024, after serving 31 years and ten months of his prison sentence

Kathmandu: Ram Bahadur Rai, one of Bhutan’s political prisoners, was released from Chemgang Central Prison in Thimphu after serving almost 32 years in imprisonment. 

Rai, a 66-year-old Bhutanese citizen born in Taklai, Bhutan, was released on July 5, 2024, after serving 31 years and ten months of his prison sentence, confirmed Ram Karki, Founder and Global Coordinator of the Global Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan (GCRPPB). “Rai reached the Bhutanese refugee camp in Beldangi, Nepal, on July 7, 2024.”

Rai was a Bhutanese citizen living as a UNHCR-registered Bhutanese refugee in Beldangi-1, sector C. However, he was arrested while distributing political leaflets in Bhutan and later sentenced to prison under the National Security Act of 1992, labeling him a traitor.

Political prisoner Rai was taken to the neighboring Indian town of Jaigaon on the same day of his release at 11 PM, despite his repeated requests to be allowed to stay in Bhutan for at least a week to meet his relatives and friends.

Rai said that he was forced to pay a sum of 5000 Bhutanese Ngultrum to the escorting police officers as compensation for the day. Later, they handed him over to an Indian citizen, Raju Magar, who received him from the Indian side of the border and made arrangements for him to stay that night in India.

Due to the flood situation in India, Rai could not travel to Nepal on July 6. He entered Nepal on July 7, after spending one more night in Jaigaon. Raju Magar escorted him to the Indian town of Panitanki, where Rai paid 3000 Indian rupees for his help.

Initially, Indian security officials at Panitanki restricted him from entering Nepal. However, they allowed him to enter Nepal on the condition that he would not be allowed to return to India in the future.

Finally, Rai reached the Bhutanese refugee camp in Beldangi, Nepal, on the evening of July 7, 2024, and now lives with his daughter Ganga and her family.

“Rai is tired and sick from his years of torture in the Bhutanese prison. Rai was shocked to find that his wife, Laxmi Maya Rai, had already died in her camp’s hut sometime in 2009,” said Ram Karki, who recently spoke to Rai over the phone.

After the brutal crushing of the peaceful movement for human rights and democracy in Bhutan during the 1990s, more than one-sixth of the country’s population was forcibly evicted from Bhutan, and hundreds of peaceful human rights activists were arrested.

In due course, a Bhutanese refugee camp was established in Nepal after India pushed them further into Nepal. During this time, Bhutanese refugees organized several peaceful movements to return to Bhutan from Nepal but failed; instead, several activists were arrested and imprisoned for life on charges of violating the National Security Act.

Several political prisoners were released due to immense international pressure, but several dozen remain in prison. Findings published by New York-based Human Rights Watch have verified a total of 35 Bhutanese political prisoners in various jails in Bhutan. With the release of Ram Bahadur Rai, a total of 34 remain in prison.

According to Ram Bahadur Rai, the situation of those in prison is very pathetic, with insufficient food, medicine, and other facilities, though he said there is no physical torture at present.

Damber Singh Pulami, Gangaram Dhakal, Nanda Lal Basnet, Govinda Nirola, and Omnath Adhikari have been suffering from various chronic illnesses in Chemgang Central Prison for several years, said Rai, who appealed to every justice-loving person, including the international community, to work towards their timely release.

The GCRPPB appeals to His Majesty the King of Bhutan and the Royal Government of Bhutan to release all remaining political prisoners safely and without further delay. The GCRPPB also appeals to the justice-loving friends of Bhutan worldwide and the international community to convince Bhutan to free all its political prisoners and allow them to live the rest of their lives with their families and loved ones in peace and freedom.