Ganga Lal Gurung was deported from Bhutan in 1992 and has been living with his family at the Beldangi refugee camp in Jhapa, Nepal, ever since. His family life took a turn for the worse when his younger brother, San Man, was detained in Bhutan during a visit in 2008. Gurung, who is around 51 years old, has only met his brother twice with the help of the Red Cross. Gurung claims he has no idea why his brother, who is around 40 years old, has been imprisoned for so long.
“Perhaps he did make a mistake that landed him in prison,” Gurung told Nepal Live Today. “However, the Bhutanese government should understand that he is a true patriot who meant no harm.”
Over 100 refugees deported from Bhutan during the democratic struggle of the 1990s, like San Man, are now languishing in prison, facing life sentences. Given that Bhutan is now a democracy, various international human rights organizations have urged the Bhutanese government to release the inmates.
The Global Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan (GCRPPB) is leading the charge, having renewed its call for the prisoners’ release on July 13 by appealing to the King of Bhutan and other stakeholders. The campaign was launched in 2019 to demand the immediate release of Bhutanese political prisoners.
According to the campaign, the appeal was copied to Bhutan’s prime minister, ministers, members of parliament, and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the European Union, among others.
Given that Bhutan is now a democracy, various international human rights organizations have urged the Bhutanese government to release the inmates.
The campaign “sincerely requested the King of Bhutan to have mercy on those unfortunate prisoners and their families and release them without delay,” according to the statement.
The campaign has expressed disappointment that, despite sending several appeals to the king and other stakeholders, the calls have gone unanswered.
For decades, more than 100 political prisoners have languished behind bars in the South Asian country. The majority of them were charged under the National Security Act, which mandated life sentences; as a result, the prisoners are currently serving life sentences. After living in various UNHCR-assisted refugee camps in Nepal for more than 20 years, the majority of their elderly parents, wives, and children have been resettled in various developed countries.
“We request urgent intervention from all stakeholders to pressurize Bhutan for the early release of political prisoners,” Ram Karki, the campaign’s coordinator, said in a statement.
According to a copy of the letter addressed to the king obtained by Nepal Live Today, “the elderly parents of those political prisoners are on the verge of dying without having their wishes to see the face of their beloved son fulfilled.” Children of those prisoners who have just been born have strong desires to see their fathers and other family members. They have waited for decades in the hope of being able to spend the rest of their lives peacefully together.”
So it is with Ganga Lal. He is currently being repatriated to Australia. His parents have already arrived. But the question of whether he’ll ever be able to catch up with his brother nags him, he says.
“We’ve been waiting a long time,” he says. “We have made numerous appeals to the state, but to no avail. We are now helpless and on our own. It would mean the world to me and my family if my brother could return to us.”