On April 27 a friend of mine who I value as a respectable journalist and community worker for the Bhutanese refugees in the camps in the Jhapa and Morang districts in Nepal was arrested in the IOM office in Kathmandu while waiting for his resettlement to the US to start a new life just like many other exiles through the UNHCR third country resettlement program. Jeet Bahadur Subba (who I know by a different name which is common practice for many Nepali youth) is a Bhutanese exile, writer, poet, community and youth worker who lived in a Bhutanese refugee camp for many, many years. But in stead of many other youth he worked hard for the benefit of the people, especially youth, in the camps. He did that by co-organizing social events, support actions for fire victims and trainings to empower youth and vulnerable groups in the camps.
We traveled together to the fire struck Goldhap an Sanischare camp and on invitation of Caritas gave journalism training to youth in the Beldangi camp last summer. The way he motivated the youth in that training and his passion in doing so was impressive.
Jeet Subba (I know him as Jeetan) is quite a character, not to be disregarded. We shared passionate conversations and joined effort for the benefit of his people in the camps. He is now detained at the the Hanuman Dhoka police station on charges of document falsification for Nepalis to be resettled to the US and Canada and having a false Nepali passport himself. An accusation of crimes that are threatening honest and justified third country resettlement. If that is true they are a serious accusation and he should be brought to trial.
However, after his arrest Jeet Subba has been severely tortured by Nepal police during the days before he was formally accused. During that time between April 27 and at least May 2 he was the victim of police brutality and threats. The torture methods included hooding, beatings with batons, falanga and the threats of pushing fabricated accusations of drugs smuggling onto him. Jit Subba admitted the accusations after being heavily tortured and will be brought to court as a result af that. During those first days in detention he was not given food or water while being in solitary confinement , not being read his legal rights, not being handed an arrest warrant or detention letter and not being allowed to talk with a lawyer without police presence. After those first days a visiting lawyer from a Nepal based human rights organization found Jit Subba with scars on his body, not being able to stand or walk and scared for his life. A second visit by a lawyer on May 8 after Jit Subba was transferred from the Central Investigation Bureau in Maharajganj, Kathmandu to Hanuman Dhoka police station was again not allowed without police presence. Current information is that Jeet Subba still needs urgent medical treatment as the result of severe torture.
Yesterday the Asian Human Rights Commission requested the prime minister of Nepal to intervene, just like other organizations had done in the past week.
Obviously Nepal police is, if the accusations of torture are true (and they are confirmed by multiple sources), way out of line on many grounds. From illegal arrest to illegal confinement, torture, threats of framing a citizen, not allowing legal support and not adhering to the Nepal interim constitution in regard to human rights. This is a very serious matter because with everything that is now known the question rises why they do that.
Fact is that journalists working for the Bhutanese exiles in Nepal have continuously experienced trouble ranging from threats and abuse to extremely slow processing of their files for their resettlement resulting in unnecessary prolonged life in the refugee camps. This seems not only to be the case for active journalists but also for community workers.
From a personal angle I have to state that I have witnessed incidents and heard experiences from people I got to know while filming the situation concerning Bhutanese exiles in Nepal. Those incidents and experiences strengthen me in my conviction that also in this case the truth lies far from what Jit Subba is being accused of. For me it is obvious that human rights of Bhutanese exiles are structurally abused by the authorities. This concerns community workers, unregistered refugees and others who are left in limbo on their position and the way the third country resettlement project of the UNHCR is executed in some cases. The claim that Jit Subba was having a Nepali passport on him is something that is for me not surprising knowing the despair of youth who are actively supporting their own people with the side effect of seeing their own third country resettlement not happening. Eighteen years in a refugee camps can drive people crazy up to the point that out of despair they’ll do anything to escape to a better and more human life.
Jit Bahadur Subba seems to be the victim of this and might very well be proven innocent after a transparent and honest police inquiry. The fact that he has been severely tortured by police is by now undeniable, which is a disgrace for a country that is in the process of finalizing a new constitution aimed at bringing peace and order.
If nothing happens I will have to fear for the life of someone I regard a friend.
Alice Verheij © 2012