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Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

Bhutanese reporter is imprisoned

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Shantiram Acharya
It is argued that Mr Acharya did not have fair legal representation

A Bhutanese journalist has been jailed for seven years for alleged links to a Maoist group, officials say.

Officials confirmed reports from an exiled Bhutanese media group that Shantiram Acharya, 20, was sentenced after returning to the country.

Mr Acharya worked for the monthly Bhutan Reporter and had been living in exile in Nepal before his return.

The Bhutanese High court found him "guilty of involvement in subversive activities" against Bhutan.

It said that police had furnished evidence of Mr Acharya participating in a military training course organised by the outlawed Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist).

This group is largely made up of Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin who have been living in camps in Nepal for two decades.

Bhutan has blamed it for a series of explosions in the southern districts of the country in recent months. The party is banned in Bhutan.

Photographs

According to the Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) Bhutan, an exiled Bhutanese media group based in Kathmandu, Mr Acharya was arrested in 2007 when he visited Bhutan to meet his relatives after a long stay in Nepal.

The APFA alleged that he was kept in secret detention for almost two months and tortured by police to extract a confession.

Bhutanese police are believed to have found photographs of army outposts in Mr Acharya's possession, which they think were taken to plan attacks.

The APFA says that Mr Acharya was only convicted because he could not hire a lawyer to defend himself as he had no money and there are few independent lawyers in Bhutan.

It says the case must be reviewed and Mr Acharya defended by independent lawyers in a fresh trial if Bhutan wants to convince the world it is a genuine democracy.

The Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) has however denied any link with Mr Acharya, saying in a press release this week that the jailed reporter was never a member of the party.

Bhutan held parliamentary elections last year and officially became a constitutional monarchy, although many believe the king still has substantial powers.

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