Bhutan: Christians Imprisioned but Hope is Growing

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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin – No. 382 – Wed 14 Jun 2006


According to reliable sources inside Bhutan the brothers Benjamin
and John Dai, after showing the Jesus video in a non-believer’s
home, were arrested on 8 January 2006 when a boy present informed
the police. Last week Benjamin received a prison sentence of three-
and-a-half years, while John was sentenced to three years. They
were given ten days to appeal to the court for bail and then fight
the case against them with the help of a prominent lawyer.

Historically Bhutan has been an isolated Buddhist kingdom with
Mahayana Buddhism as the state religion. According to Operation
World, Bhutan was closed to Christians until 1965, but then a
relaxation of isolationist policies enabled witness through
foreign, predominantly Indian, Christian NGOs. However objections
to Church growth led to tightening restrictions and through the
1990s Bhutanese Christians were increasingly persecuted. In theory
the law permits religious freedom but the reality has been quite
different. Christianity is severely regulated and Christians may
not build churches or gather together freely. Proselytism by non-
Buddhists is illegal as is religious conversion from Buddhism.
There has also been widespread ethnic cleansing of the Hindu

However Bhutan is in transition from Buddhist kingdom to
constitutional democracy. The August 2005 second draft Constitution
guarantees freedom of speech, opinion, expression, thought,
conscience and religion, as well as freedom to receive and
disseminate information, and freedom of association and peaceful
assembly. Nevertheless the clause ‘No person shall be compelled to
belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement’
(Article 7.3) needs definition. Also, Article 7.21 empowers the
authorities to restrict freedoms if necessary to protect social
harmony, which could be exploited by Buddhist nationalists if the
courts permit. But generally the proposed constitution is
extraordinary and gives grounds for great hope. So too is the
guidance being given by Bhutan’s king, His Royal Highness the Crown
Prince, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

Over the past eight months the king has held public consultations
on the constitution in every district (dzongkhag) of the country.
To fears expressed that religious liberty will undermine and
threaten Buddhism he has responded by affirming the equality of all
Bhutanis and the importance of liberty for all. When asked about
safeguarding social harmony, the king has stated that peace and
harmony are the responsibility of all Bhutanis. The Chief Justice
likewise affirms that in a democracy there should be no
discrimination against any religion, and that freedom of religion
is a fundamental right of the people.

So the trial of Benjamin and John Dai, presumably on charges of
proselytising, comes at a critical juncture as Bhutan transitions
from its past to its future. This situation deserves our fervent
and persistent prayers, not only for Benjamin and John, but because
debate around this case could define the future of religious
freedom in Bhutan.


* Benjamin and John Dai may be God’s ambassadors before Bhutan’s
courts at this critical time, as God fulfills his promise ‘. .
. you will be given what to say . . .’ (Matthew 10:18-20)

* God will redeem their suffering and use this trial for his
purposes, to bring glory to his name and to further his kingdom.
‘ . . . for my house will be called a house of prayer for all
nations.’ (Isaiah 56:7b)

* in all his sovereign power and great mercy, God will work in and
through the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and Chief
Justice, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, to bring true religious liberty to
Bhutan, blessing their reforms and revealing himself to their
hearts and minds.

* the Spirit of God will move amongst the people of Bhutan to calm
their fears and excite their hearts; may they be impervious to
the schemes, deceptions and incitement of troublemakers.

* God will fill Bhutan’s 3000 (approx.) Christians with wisdom,
peace, grace and power in the Holy Spirit, blessing their
ministry and protecting them.




Historically Bhutan has been an isolated and severely repressive
nation where non-Buddhists suffer restriction and persecution.
However the King is leading Bhutan’s amazing transformation now
from Buddhist kingdom to constitutional democracy. The draft
Constitution guarantees freedom of opinion, expression,
information, peaceful assembly and religion. The King believes the
nation must modernise, open up and reform, and is promoting
equality, liberty and responsibility. In the midst of this comes
the trial of two Christians, Benjamin and John Dai, for showing the
Jesus video to non-believers. They have been sentenced to three
years’ imprisonment, but can appeal. The debate arising from this
trial could affect the future of religious liberty in Bhutan.
Please pray for God to intervene and guide Bhutan to liberty.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.