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01 May 2014

Open Doors campaign for Bhutan pastors

Open Doors campaign for Bhutan pastors

Buddhists in Bhutan Creative Commons Steve Evans

Alliance member organisation, Open Doors, has launched an urgent campaign on behalf of two pastors in Bhutan who were arrested on 5 March for conducting a religious meeting without a permit. They were then kept in prison for 49 days without charge. 

This case comes as UK MPs are gearing up to debate freedom of religion and belief which will be held on Thursday 1 May in the main chamber of the House of Commons. 

Open Doors are urging UK citizens to take action by emailing their MPs, asking them to attend the debate and also asking people to email David Cameron and the King and Attorney General of Bhutan to secure Tandin and Thapa’s release. 

Pastors Tandin Wangyal and Mon Bdr. Thapa were released on bail on 22 April, but charged with conducting a gathering for religious purpose without prior approval,  showing a film without certificate of approval from the concerned media authorities and collecting ‘illegal funds’. 

Invited to hold a three-day seminar at a house church in Dorokha, Samtse, the duo ministered to over 25 Christians on the first day. However, a neighbour reported to authorities that they did not have a permit to gather.

Tandin and Thapa were arrested the next day while taking a sick child to Khapdani basic health unit.

They are due to appear in court on 5 May - UK bank holiday Monday - and could face significant prison sentences. The last person to be convicted for showing ‘the Jesus film’ was released in 2013 after three years in prison.

Tucked between China and India, Bhutan is 31 on Open Doors’ world watch list which is a ranking of countries in the world where Christians are most severely persecuted. 

Bhutan is predominantly Buddhist. Christianity is thought to undermine Bhutanese culture and traditions and is often barely tolerated. Christians can worship privately but struggle to meet together or secure official permission to do so. Christianity isn’t recognised as an official religion and conversion is viewed with suspicion, with Christians facing threats and pressure to return to Buddhism.