Jigmi Wangdi

To confront the difficulties faced by individuals affected by drug policies and discrimination, the Chithuen Phendhey Association (CPA) held a dynamic and engaging network workshop yesterday.

The workshop served as a platform for recovering addicts, active drug users, and others to come together and share their personal experiences and the hardships they have endured.

Many of the participants had personally encountered the country’s criminal justice system due to their drug abuse, and they spoke candidly about the injustices and discrimination they faced at the hands of the authorities while in detention.

“Most of us have been victims of unfair treatment by the authorities during our time in jail or prison,” shared one participant.

Another participant expressed that individuals arrested for drug abuse, particularly those lacking strong family support or a stable economic background, often found themselves incarcerated without due process.

The participants also noted that a significant proportion of the prison population came from economically-disadvantaged families.

One participant highlighted the bias they faced, saying, “If I were caught with even a small amount of marijuana-derived hashish, I would be locked up because I have no one to advocate for me. We respect the work of authorities such as the police, but the system seems to be prejudiced against us based on our backgrounds.”

Another participant said, “I resorted to selling and abusing drugs because my family was impoverished. Later, when I was arrested by the police, I faced discrimination as a transgender individual.”

The participants acknowledged their own wrongdoing in abusing drugs and recognised the need to face the consequences as dictated by the law.

However, they passionately called for systemic changes to ensure they were treated as individuals with fundamental rights.

“The existing laws are already in place for us to follow, but law enforcement often manipulates them to our disadvantage,” one participant lamented.

Another shared an instance where they were threatened with arrest simply for supporting a friend at a police station.

“How can that be considered fair?” they questioned.

The participants also voiced concerns about the detention process, describing instances where individuals were kept in detention centres without any news of bail or formal charges.

“We’re constantly shuffled between different agencies in our attempts to secure the release of a friend or family member,” one participant said.

One issue that received unanimous agreement among the participants was the arduous process of acquiring a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the relevant authorities after release from prison.

“Despite numerous attempts, I still haven’t obtained an NOC. I’ve been directed to multiple agencies, but it has been futile,” said a participant.

The NOC is a critical document for Bhutanese individuals to secure employment or start a business. With the slim possibility of acquiring an NOC, they feel compelled to resort to their old ways.

The workshop aimed to establish an inclusive and supportive environment, enabling participants to connect, share experiences, and build a network with others who have faced similar challenges.

The personal stories, perspectives, and insights shared during the workshop provided valuable insights for the plenary to comprehend the complex realities experienced by these individuals.

CPA is committed to advocating for policy changes that address the concerns raised by the participants. By promoting fairness, justice, and evidence-based approaches in drug laws and policies, CPA aims to effect positive transformations.

Furthermore, the association seeks support from legal authorities to safeguard individuals from discrimination, prejudice, and other forms of abuse, ensuring that their rights are upheld and they receive equal treatment under the law.