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Bhutan Christians Face Prison For Showing Jesus Film

Saturday, June 17, 2006 | Tag Cloud

By BosNewsLife News Center

THIMPHU, BHUTAN (BosNewsLife) -- Two jailed Christian government workers were struggling Friday, June 16, to avoid serving years of imprisonment for showing the internationally acclaimed 'Jesus' film in a Buddhist home, BosNewsLife learned.

Several Christian rights investigators told BosNewsLife that the two men, identified as 'Benjamin' Budhu Mani Dungana and 'John' Purna Bahadhur Tamang were detained either January 7 or January 8 in the small town of Paro while they were on their way to “preach the word of God” to a small group of people.

"We previously had been asked to keep silent on their case until appeals were exhausted. These Christians are now asking that their story be publicized to bring international pressure on the government of Bhutan to grant their release," said International Christian Concern (ICC), a US-based human rights groups, which investigated the case. Other organizations, including Jubilee Campaign USA, also confirmed the arrest.

Most of the tiny Southeast Asian 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. ICC said Benjamin and John were given ten days to appeal to the courts for bail "to avoid serving 3.5 and 3-year-long prison sentences for showing the “Jesus” film in a Buddhist home."

WIDESPREAD FILM

The 'Jesus' film on the life of Christ has been shown around the world, often by preachers like Benjamin and John, since its initial release in 1979. It had over 6 billion viewings, while over 201 million people indicated decisions to accept "Christ as their personal Savior and Lord," organizers said.

Reaching Bhutan, would have been another milestone in the distribution of the film, but local authorities intervened, several sources said. "While the Chief Judge for the district court of Paro did not consider the case serious enough to keep the men in prison, it was moved to the Crime and Investigation Department of the Royal Bhutan Police in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital," ICC said.

"Lt. Col. Kipchu, head of the Crime and Investigation Department, is known to be violently opposed to Christianity, and has dragged the two men from Paro to Thimphu and back again multiple times and imprisoned them under wretched conditions."

MARRIED MEN

It was difficult to immediately get reactions from Bhutan officials. Christian rights watchers said that the arrest came as a major setback for Benjamin, who is married and has three children.
He worked as a General Nurse Midwife (GNM) at Jigme Dorji Wangchuk national referral hospital.

John, who is married with one child, was an Auditor at the Royal Audit Authority. Although they were given ten days to appeal with the help of a prominent lawyer, a local believers said in published remarks that the two Christians may have no chance to avoid a tougher jail. "In Bhutan the government is always right, we are always wrong. So there is very little chance of winning the case unless there is intervention from [on] high."

ICC said it had urged its supporters and "all concerned Christians" to "politely" ask government officials to release them.

The officials were identified as Secretary to His Majesty the King of Bhutan Dasho Pema Wangchen, Phone: +975-2-322962 Fax: +975-2-323232, Chief Justice of Royal Court of Justice, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye Phone: +975-2-322613, Fax: +975-2-322921, Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, Email: ngedup@druknet.bt, Phone: +975-2-322129 and Fax: +975-2-323153 and Minister of Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs Lyonpo Jigme Y. Thinley, Phone: +975-2-322643 and Fax: +975-2-322214.

(On the Web: www.persecution.org. With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Bhutan).

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