Tek Nath Rizal - Freed

PortraitTNR.JPG (7328 bytes)Tek Nath Rizal, the founding father of the Bhutanese freedom movement, along with 200 other prisoners including 40 political prisoners, was released on December 17, 1999 on the occasion of the National Day of Bhutan. The official weekly Kuensel of December 18, 1999, stated that " In a Kasho to the Home Minister this week, His Majesty explained that, although he had been sentenced to life imprisonment for subversive and treasonable acts against the Tsawa Sum , Tek Nath Rizal was being granted the royal pardon because he had not physically carried out acts of violence and terrorism and he had served 10 years in prison."

Tek Nath Rizal, an Amnesty International’s "Prisoner of Conscience" had been in prison since 17 November 1989. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Thimphu High Court on November 16, 1993, for violating the National Security Act of 1992, which was passed two years after Rizal’s incarceration. Three days after this, His Majesty the King ruled over the court’s verdict and had declared that Rizal would be released upon finding a solution to the Bhutanese refugee problem. However, the Amnesty international, in its press statement on December 21, welcoming Rizal’s release stated that the organisation had always argued that linking the release of Tek Nath Rizal to a process over which he had no control is unfair.

His crime was to advocate for human rights and fundamental freedom of the southern Bhutanese people. Rizal, as a Royal Advisory Councilor, had submitted a petition to the King apprising him of the sufferings of the southern Bhutanese people resulting from an unfair census exercise and the census officials’ abuse of power during the census carried out in Southern Bhutan in 1988 and had appealed to him to consider amending the 1985 Citizenship Act of Bhutan such that:

The appeal was viewed as seditious and Rizal was charged with treason and imprisoned. Rizal was coerced to sign a document which barred him from attending public functions and meeting more than three people at a time. He was deposed from his public service, released from the prison and ordered to leave the capital within 48 hours. Thus, he came into exile in Nepal and started a human rights movement only to find himself abducted to Bhutan to be entrapped in the brutal clutches of injustice.

His release has been welcomed by all Bhutanese people both within and outside Bhutan. However, as per the move of the Royal government, there are two schools of thought among the Bhutanese community. First, it is seen that Rizal’s release is directly associated with the resolution of the Bhutanese refugee problem as had been declared by the King in November 1993. Hence, this release is viewed as positive move towards resolution of the refugee problem. But in contrast to the likelihood of such a move, it is also opined that Rizal’s release is only a ploy of the Bhutanese government to appease the international community.

Soon after his release, Rizal made a bold statement from Thimphu that he would continue to struggle for the cause of the Bhutanese people. He declared that he now intends to seek an audience with the King of Bhutan and make two specific requests. He said that he will appeal to the King to release all political prisoners currently detained in Bhutanese jails and to repatriate all the Bhutanese citizens living as refugees to their ancestral homes and hearth in Bhutan. Until the time of writing this update, there has not been any news of response from the Bhutanese monarch.