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Opposition Movement


The overall effect of Driglam Namza, One Nation One People policy and a series of other repressive measures and discrimination against the Nepali speaking southern Bhutanese (Lhotshampas) made them feel like second class citizens in their own country. The introduction of new Citizenship Act of 1985 with retrospective action, and the subsequent census exercise in 1988 that converted a large segment of southern Bhutanese citizens as illegal immigrants instilled fear and political unrest amidst the southern Bhutanese for the first time. This ultimately became the basis that led the Lhotshampas to campaign for their rights and freedoms.

A petition seeking a review of the 1985 Citizenship Act and the manner in which the census was carried out and other government policies was sent to the king by Tek Nath Rizal, who then was the Royal Advisory Councillor and people's representative from the south. But his appeal was taken by the king as an act of treason. Consequently Mr. Rizal was imprisoned and tortured on charges of inciting the southern Bhutanese against the government.

A week later, on conditions that he did not attend any public functions or speak to more than three persons at a time, Rizal was released under amnesty from the king. Distressed at the way he was treated, Rizal soon flee the country to join dissidents and mobilise support in exile.

On July 7, 1989, Mr. Rizal formed the "People's Forum for Human Rights in Bhutan" (PFHRB) in exile (Nepal) and started campaigning against the gross violations of human rights in Bhutan.

In October and November 1998 Bhutan Government arrested and tortured a number of Rizal's supporters including college and high school students inside the country. On November 16, 1989, Bhutan police trespassed into the kingdom of Nepal and abducted Tek Nath Rizal and his three associates. Now Mr. Rizal is in Chemgang central jail in Thimphu as an Amnesty declared "Prisoner of Conscience."

A number of other suspected dissidents fled Bhutan to escape arrest, and organised themselves into a political party called 'Bhutan Peoples' Party' (BPP) on June 2, 1990 on Indo-Bhutan border district of North Bengal in India.

On August 7, 1990, the Home Ministry of Bhutan issued a circular branding all those who fled the country as traitors or anti-nationals. The Citizenship of family members and relatives of those fleeing the country were consequently confiscated and were charged with anti-national activities.

Notwithstanding the government threat and order, in September 1990, under the command of BPP, the southern Bhutanese in all the southern districts, organised a number of peaceful public demonstrations protesting against the discriminatory citizenship laws and Driglam Namza. The government reacted swiftly, arresting their leaders, and closing schools and hospitals throughout southern Bhutan. The protest grew into a movement for full human rights, and eventually into a call for democracy.