How they escaped and were rearrested on the same day

Rinzin Wangchuk

1 am, November 22. A prisoner has escaped from the Thimphu city detention centre. He calls his girlfriend using the Facebook Messenger service. The call goes unanswered.

By then the prisoner, Ugyen Tshewang, known among police and his circle as Triple X or just XXX, and his nine friends are out in the open after breaching one of the windows of the detention centre in the heart of the capital city.  They managed to sneak in a hacksaw blade and cut the iron bars of the centre’s toilet window.

While how the escapees used a blade to hack the window is the question on many minds, sources say they used a simple trick to fool the guards. Some were washing clothes with full force, some were cleaning the floor and singing – all to cover the sound of the hacksaw blade cutting the solid iron bar.

Kuensel learnt that one of the detainee’s relatives had passed the hacksaw into the detention centre when the relative went to deliver mattresses and blankets. According to a source, the hacksaw was concealed inside a folded mattress that was stitched seamlessly to make it difficult for the police to discover it.  

Kuensel, however,  could not verify with police which detainees’ relative smuggled in the blade


Thimphu to Delhi

Sources said they suspect XXX  to be the mastermind of the jailbreak on November 22. XXX was already carrying a mobile phone  inside the centre. “The phone could have helped him plan and coordinate with his relatives to escape,” one source said.

XXX’s plan to escape got a boost when  two non-Bhutanese who were arrested in a drug possession case promised to reward him if he could get them out of the detention cell and the country.

The plan  was to escape to New Delhi, India the same day to avoid arrest. They were to cross the border into India from Pasakha, Phuentsholing.

Meanwhile, the Royal Bhutan Police had other plans.

As if they were privy to the plan, by the time XXX’s call was detected, police had already deployed more than 300 policepersonnel to monitor the borders and point of exit.


The long hands of law

Soon after knowing that the detainees had escaped, a police search team managed to re-arrest two detainees.  The two couldn’t escape far and were arrested from Debsi, Thimphu. Another escapee, a non-Bhutanese, was apprehended at Takti Koti on the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway.  Police also arrested the man who drove the escapees until Kamji before reaching Sorchen, Phuentsholing.

The search was swift and efficient. By late afternoon on the same day, November 22,  seven escapees who were believed to have walked from the last Sorchen turning end towards Pasakha were apprehended. A source from police headquarters said that their movements were traced when they contacted their relatives and spouses through mobile phone calls. Police then deployed more teams from Pasakha upward in Burkhay and Chumithang Toed and one team down from the start route from Sorchen.

Around 4.15 pm, the search team traced a call through B-mobile from the tower location in Rangaytung Sector C in Phuentsholing. The escapees were probably waiting to cross the border.

Police also got information that the family of one escapee, who was recently arrested on a drug case, received a video call before lunch. XXX had allegedly demanded Nu 300,000 for helping their son to escape. He was showing video clips of beating their son with a stick and asking them to deposit the cash at the earliest.

One escapee, who was involved in a rape case, was arrested around 5.30 pm. He turned out to be a good source to trace the others. He told the search team that all the seven escapees were together and could be around the same area in Pasakha. Soon, police nabbed one escapee who was involved in a burglary case.

The search continued until the early morning of November 23. But it did not take long. Police  managed to re-arrest all the escapees on November 23 largely by tracing the mobile towers that indicated their whereabouts.  The policein Jaigaon also extended their full support to prevent their escape to India by deploying patrolling teams at various entry points.


Nu 355,000 in ransom deposited

Kuensel learnt that the escapees told police that XXX had threatened and collected Nu 355,000 in ransom which was deposited through the MBoB facility in an bank account of a woman. Two family members (escapees’ wife and mother) deposited Nu 90,000 each and one relative deposited Nu 75,000. One father also deposited Nu 100,000 into the woman’s account.

They also said that XXX had paid Nu 60,000 to the van driver for helping them. “Their plan was to leave for Delhi on the night of the escape,” a source said.

The driver of the van had apparently told police that he was supposed to receive the payment from the wife of one escapee and it was fixed at Nu 50,000. She arranged the transportation for the escapees. Kuensel sources said that the driver had not received the amount since he was arrested before receiving the money.

Sources from police headquarters also said about four relatives, who were involved in providing the hacksaw blade, mobile phone and helping the detainees escape, were detained and will be charged for aiding and abetting.

Six of the escapees were detained for drug trafficking, two for burglary, one for rape, and another one on charge of voluntary manslaughter. Two are non-Bhutanese.

Meanwhile, this year alone, 15 inmates including one prisoner from Chamgang, one detainee from JDWNRH in Thimphu and one prisoner from Samdrupjongkhar had escaped. Except for the  two who escapedfrom Chamgang and Samdrupjongkhar, the rest were rearrested. The RBP has announced a reward of Nu 50,000 to anyone who could provide police with information leading to the re-arrest of both the inmates.

Police sources said that the Thimphu detention centre is overcrowded with detainees arrested for both criminal and civil cases. “Such overcrowding challenges can be addressed only if the courts adjudicate the cases of criminal nature as fast as possible and render judgments of conviction or acquittal,” a police officer said.