Pastors in Bhutan jailed without charges

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent

THIMPHU, BHUTAN (Worthy News)-- Two pastors in southern Bhutan have spent more than a month in jail without being formally charged, according to Morning Star News.

Police arrested M.B. Thapa and Tandin Wangyal in Khapdani village back on March 5. According to the minister of cultural affairs, Damcho Dorji, the two pastors were trying to coercively "proselytize". But Officer in Charge Pema Wangdi said the only basis for their arrest was an alleged failure to procure prior approval to conduct a ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a new house on March 4.

"The constitution gives the freedom to practice your own religion, but bars anybody from forcefully converting others," Dorji said. "They had not obtained permission from local authorities. This is a crime under the penal code amendment ... if you have violated this provision, it does not matter whether you are Buddhist, Hindu or Christian ... the law will take its own course."

Bhutan, a Bhuddist-majority nation of over 700,000 people, transitioned to a constitutional democratic monarchy in 2008 after a century of absolute monarchy. Bhutan's constitution does provide for religious freedom: Section 4, Article 7 states that citizens shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and that no one "shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement".

However, Christians are not legally recognized by Bhutan and Buddhists who convert to Christianity are looked upon with suspicion.