Male Iron Rat Year

Tashi Dema

The year will not only go down in the history for the pandemic’s impact on the economy and ravaging lives of people but also for sending many behind bars for breaching the Covid-19 and lockdown protocols.

In the cases charged by police and Office of the Attorney General (OAG), section 410 on criminal nuisance and 448 on breach of public order and tranquillity of the Penal Code of Bhutan were widely used against those who breached the protocols either intentionally or accidentally.

Some received 15 years imprisonment while those who are convicted of breaching section 448 received minimum sentencing of one month to a year in prison.

Of the many cases, a man from Lamitar in Samtse was sentenced to five years in prison for buying his three-year-old thirsty son a bottle of water on the way along the border to avail banking services.

Two men were arrested for walking to Punakha from Thimphu during the second lockdown, as they did not have anywhere to stay in Thimphu. They came to Thimphu for a court case. Others were convicted for buying chillies, tobacco products and sneaking in and out of the country illegally. Even villagers, who played archery and khuru were charged for the crime.

The application of the two sections, however, raised concerns among many legal practitioners. They questioned how people could be charged with breaching section 410, which is self-explanatory, as it states a defendant would be guilty of the offence if he or she injures or endangers the safety or health of the public by spreading a dangerous disease. Lawyers argued that people will have to spread the disease first but if they don’t, how could they be guilty of the crime?

Many also took to social media to question the practicality of locking up people for criminal nuisance and breach of protocol when no accountability was fixed in lapses of protocols that led to two lockdowns.

There were also inconsistencies in the application of the law and unequal treatment of defaulters. However, there were no checks and balances, transparency and accountability in how the cases were dealt with.

Meanwhile, the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) and RENEW recorded many gender-based violence cases during the two lockdowns. Victims, which included women, men and children, suffered physical, emotional, economical and sexual violence. Many sought emergency shelter home support.

Bhutanese maids rescued from Iraq

The year began in a sombre mood when 100s of Bhutanese girls were reported to be in Iraq, trafficked by colluding local and foreign agents, which are unauthorised and illegal in the country.

The women, who were promised good jobs and salary had to allegedly work in inhospitable conditions and were subjected to abuse.

They sought help from everyone but rescue works progressed only after His Majesty The King commanded that every effort and resources must be used to bring the women safely home.

In 10 months, the women were brought back home in various groups, ranging from three to 132 at a time. In September, a special relief flight brought home 132 women.

The government spent about Nu 140 million to rescue 159 women, as the government had to pay USD 3,400 to USD 7,000 for each woman rescued through negotiation.