The Bhutan High Court sentenced Gospel for Asia-supported missionary *Ugyen Tashi to three years in prison for “attempting to promote civil unrest” for showing a film about Jesus.
On May 21st, carrying a generator and a projector, Ugyen walked for two days into interior villages of Bhutan with a single purpose—to give people a chance to learn about Jesus.
But when one of the village chiefs learned of the movie’s content, he informed the chief of his district, who then called the police to arrest Ugyen.
Investigations and Questionings
The days following the arrest were a whirlwind of investigations, questionings, postponements, police statements and waiting.
While police investigated his case, Pastor Ugyen was kept in a small, dark, mosquito-filled room along with three other inmates.
On June 14, the police attempted to search Pastor Ugyen’s house, but they were unable to enter because the house was locked.
In need of more information, the police sent a team to the villages where Ugyen showed the Jesus film to reinvestigate and conclude whether people were converted through the screening.
The police summoned the village chiefs and others present at the showing and asked them a series of questions concerning what happened the night of Ugyen’s arrest. Both Christians and non-Christians presented statements for Ugyen’s case.
The Court Process
On July 22, two months after Ugyen’s arrest, he was taken to court for the first phase of his hearing—after multiple postponements and cancellations.
GFA leaders had initially met with local officials to appeal for Ugyen’s release on bail, but the officials refused their petition because they considered Ugyen’s case very serious and a possible violation of Bhutan’s constitution, which states that “No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.”
Ugyen was asked to write a statement for the court, but his first statement was considered insufficient. Nine times Ugyen rewrote his statement, paying $2.50 each time.
On August 17, the court presented all of Ugyen’s statements in the presence of the officials and asked Ugyen to screen the controversial film on the life of Jesus before the court the following day. Although it was reported that the court officials wanted to watch all the films Ugyen had shown before a final verdict was pronounced, the film was never shown.
Buthan’s constitution states that “Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes the principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance,” yet Christians have often been persecuted for their faith even though their constitutional right grants them freedom of religion as long as they weren’t compelled by coercion to convert to Christianity.
Please pray for Pastor Ugyen while he is in prison. Pray for his health, and that he will be able to effectively minister while he’s behind bars. Pray also for the other believers living in Bhutan. Pray for their protection, strength to endure persecution, and discernment on how to share the Good News with those around them.
Pastor Ugyen’s timeline:
- May 21, 2010 – Ugyen is arrested by Bhutan police for showing the Jesus film. Film equipment confiscated.
- June 4, 2010 – The police summon the village chief and people who saw the film to give detailed information. Police give Ugyen’s case to Divisional Magistrate, who forwards the case to the District Magistrate for further investigation.
- June 9, 2010 – Case forwarded to the district court. Ugyen awaits his first hearing.
- June 14, 2010 – Police try to investigate Ugyen’s house but can’t enter because the door is locked.
- June 15, 2010 – Police go to villages where film was shown to reinvestigate.
- July 5, 2010 – GFA leaders meet with officials to appeal for Ugyen’s release on bail. The petition is refused because of the gravity of the case.
- July 22, 2010 – First phase of hearing scheduled for July 23 postponed until July 26.
- Aug. 4, 2010 – Ugyen asked to write a statement. The statement is invalid, and he is asked to write another one.
- Aug 6, 2010 – Ugyen has written nine statements thus far. He is questioned as to why he shared the Good News. Next court date set for Aug. 9.
- Aug. 9, 2010 – Ugyen’s court date rescheduled for Aug. 17.
- Aug. 17, 2010 – Pastor Ugyen taken to court and his statements are read before the court officials. Asked to appear before the court again on Aug. 18 to screen the Jesus film.
- Aug. 19, 2010 – Pastor Ugyen asked to appear on Aug. 20 instead.
- Aug. 23, 2010 – The district court forwards all of Pastor Ugyen’s statements and a report from the police and district court to the High Court in Thimphu for verification. Screening of Jesus film never takes place.
- Sept. 8, 2010 – District court takes over case again. Court officials suggest Ugyen write an apology to the judge of the district court.
- Oct. 7, 2010 – High Court sentences Ugyen to three years in prison.
*Name has been changed for security purposes.
(First published: Dec. 9, 2010)