Bhutan: Zam and freedom

The level of silence that Bhutanese media maintained about the departure of a senior journalist Namgay Zam from country is the sheer reflection of how freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the land’s constitution, is flourishing in this Himalayan nation.

The media fraternity has not revealed why it was so quiet. Neither it rallied behind when she was challenged with defamation suit. The media outlets simply fulfilled the formality to mention she faced legal challenge for her Facebook post that it was withdrawn after several months in court.

Zam’s case is a second publicly visible example of how the elites ruled the citizens in Bhutan. The other being Mr Benji’s case.

The fundamental characteristic in both cases is the fight between feudalists and the modern citizens. Hailing from a feudal society where verbal statements are rule of the country, Bhutanese elites will take decades before they adhere to principles of democratic and free society that all are equal.

In both circumstances, feudalism is getting defeated – longing to retract from their suppressive act. They failed to prove they are right and to keep up their public image, cases were withdrawn.

For many in the ruling class, Zam’s departure could be an act of treason against the nation. We must not feel shock if Bhutan government demanded her deportation or she’s been put on travel ban when she returns to Thimphu for a family reunion.

The effort of an Indian freelance writer documenting Zam’s struggle to uphold the freedom of expression and fight for justice, received immense criticism and appreciation in social media. There is clear demarcation between those who appreciate his effort and those who criticise – feudal patriotism versus democratic citizens, ruling versus the ruled class, elite versus the common mass, rich versus the poor.

Many in Bhutan still fear prosecution if spoken against establishment or any high-ranking politicians, government officials or individuals holding higher social status. Slapping fine to BBS for letting a public ask a question to a minister live on TV, internal circulation of a minister to stop any form of public advertisement to a private newspaper, legal challenge against Mr Benji for criticism a political party and defamation suit against Zam for sharing a Facebook post are only a fraction of wider example about how common citizens in Bhutan live; constantly under threat, intimidation and terrorising situation.

Zam mentioned in her Facebook video that her departure is manifestation of the growing brain drain in Bhutan where common citizen lack adequate security, affection, encouragement and opportunity to contribute towards nation building.

That’s the real story that has never been told or written, and possibly will never be. Because Thimphu wants to appear clean and clear. Any effort that would put Thimphu on bad light is termed either illegal or terminated before it actually gets public attention. It is silently subdued, subjugated. Thimphu wants a sensational story of happiness, serene environment, magical rulers and tranquil society. It wants the public and the media to present it as the most venerable and revered.

Freedom of expression will question this status, considering the fact Bhutan has never had such magic, tranquillity.

That’s why Bhutan continues to fear from freedom of expression, free media and open society.

Bhutan needed more Zams, not leaving the country but staying there and fighting for a free and open society.

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