l Usha Drukpa, Thimphu
Replying to questions from the Opposition, Home and Cultural Affairs Minister, Dawa Gyeltshen, minced no words in underlining that everyone ought to know the real stories, before pointing fingers and drawing conclusions. The reference was to recent allegations, which surfaced in one of the mainstream media and social media about allegations that an inmate of the Lungzor jail in Trashigang was mistreated by the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) personnel.
The question on recent stray incidences of some police personnel’s alleged high handedness was raised by the National Assembly (NA) member from Nganglam, Chador Wangdi and later supported by the Opposition Leader (OL). While Lyonpo Dawa Gyeltshen did not get into the details of the Lungzor investigation, he informed the floor that the accusations against RBP in Lungzor were untrue. “I don’t think I need to read out the details of the investigation. But the allegations are not true,” he said, adding that the matter has also not been reported truly by the media. Lyonpo mentioned that when such cases are reported wrongly, accountability could be fixed.
Going further, the Minister mentioned that inmates who are sick get medical treatment at the nearest hospital. There are fixed timings for visitors to meet any inmate and if there are cases of police going overboard, inmates could inform their relatives, who could take the accused to the court of law. Referring that there are laws, such as the Prisons Act of Bhutan 2009 and others, the Home Minister also informed that everybody, and not just the police, are under the purview of the stated laws. Hinting that the media and others are blowing cases involving police out of proportion, he mentioned that when police personnel is battered by groups of people and hospitalized for a month and more, no one seems to be bothered. Lyonpo Dawa stated that if there are cases of police high handedness within prisons, the Human Rights Committee would immediately act.
The Minister also called for restrain and mentioned that cases like the one in Nganglam surface when both parties react to each other. Picking up a Bhutanese proverb, he said that if somebody calls one a “big forehead” (kuchu) and the other responds by calling the other a “baldie,” problems would emerge. He further added that just because someone is a policeman, they cannot be at the receiving end.
In the case at Lungzor, a former inmate, 19-year-old Leki Dorji from Samkhar, Trashigang had alleged that the police official on duty battered him in June and March this year without any reason. He also alleged of being stabbed by another fellow inmate while in prison.
He had also claimed that he was battered by a group of police officials for no reason. In an interview with a local daily, he had said that he came across some duty officials beating some inmates and one of them asked him to leave. On his way back, he met the jail captain, who again asked him what he was upto. “I shared the incident to the captain but the duty police assumed that I was talking about him. He called me and without asking anything, started beating me. Other police officials on duty also joined in.”
The Home Minister’s statement to the NA comes together with the findings of an inquiry team, who found out that though the police official on duty beat Leki Dorji, the latter had also hit the official. It was found that before the stabbing incident, Leki Dorji and two inmates were sent for collecting firewood for the promotion of a non-commissioned officer. After work, they were taken for lunch where Leki Dorji and another inmate, Kinley Gyeltshen is said to have consumed local alcohol, discretely.
When they were returning to the jail, the police official on duty found Kinley Gyeltshen drunk but was not aware that Leki Dorji was also under the influence of alcohol. The inquiry team has said that Leki was considered a strong man. His help was sought to get Kinley Gyeltshen inside. When he refused, another inmate Jigme Namgay who is said to have had a grudge against Leki Dorji asked him not to raise his hands on Kinley Gyeltshen. Leki Dorji then went inside the jail, picked up a fight with Jigme Namgay, who got a knife from the kitchen and stabbed him on the back thrice. Leki Dorji has also said that he was taken to hospital after he was stabbed.
The investigation team has also been told by most people they questioned that Leki Dorji was not only notorious, but also did not get along with many of the inmates and duty police personnel.
Based on their findings, the inquiry team has recommended that the prison’s officer in-charge be sent on long-range patrol and transfer for non-compliance to prison rules. However, the action is not for being high handedness, for which no evidence was found. The prison warden was also recommended the same action for taking the prisoners out to get firewood.