Bhutan Releases Jailed Christians; Men Reunited With Families

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

By BosNewsLife News Center

THIMPHU, BHUTAN (BosNewsLife) -- Amid international pressure, Bhutan released two evangelical Christian government workers who were jailed after preaching and showing the internationally acclaimed 'Jesus' film to Buddhists, Christian rights investigators confirmed Monday, July 31.

US-based International Christian Concern (ICC) with website told BosNewsLife it learned this weekend from Christians inside the isolated Southern Asian nation that 'Benjamin' (Budhu Mani Dungana) and 'John' (Purna Bahadhur Tamang) were released and reunited with their families.

The two were reportedly arrested January 7, 2006, in the small town of Paro after sharing the Gospel with a non-Christian family which apparently included showing the film 'Jesus' about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. ICC said it was informed of their situation earlier in the year but was asked to keep quiet while Christians inside the country exhausted all avenues of appeal.


After the group heard "that their prison sentences had been decided" it sent out a message to BosNewsLife and other news media, while working behind the scenes with human rights group The Jubilee Campaign to put pressure on the government of Bhutan to free the men.

ICC Regional Policy Analyst for South Asia, Jeremy Sewall told BosNewsLife that his group was thanking "everyone who prayed for these men and contacted government officials" but he also cautioned that "Benjamin and John" who are both in their 30s, will have to "rebuild their lives after being in prison for seven months."

Before his arrest, Benjamin, who is married and has three children, worked as a General Nurse Midwife (GNM) at Jigme Dorji Wangchuk national referral hospital, while John, who is married with one child, was an Auditor at the Royal Audit Authority, Christians said.


Most of the tiny, landlocked Himalayan kingdom’s population of over two million is said to be Lamaistic Buddhist, while 25 percent is observing Indian- and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism, and Christians are apparently persecuted.

In March 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck unveiled the government's draft constitution - which would introduce democratic reforms - and pledged to hold a national referendum for its approval. Over one year later, a referendum date has yet to be named. It was not clear what, if any, role the king played in the release of the men.

Sewall said ICC had urged its supporters to pray for Bhutan "as government officials there continue to struggle with wanting to allow more freedom, but also fearing that they will lose their identity to Western culture." Christianity has been often viewed as “a Western religion” in Asia, BosNewsLife observed.

Sewall stressed it was important for the government of Bhutan to "find that religious freedom is a universal right and not a Western right." (With BosNewsLife reporting, BosNewsLife Research and reports from Bhutan and Washington DC).

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