26th November 2014
Bhutanese pastor Tandin Wangyal appeared before the Samtse District Court on 18 November with his wife and three sons."My sons have been wondering why I leave them for days," Tandin explained. "So, even though it was a difficult journey for them, I had to bring them to the court hearing at least once. They wanted to know what their Daddy has been going through."Tandin's wife Nengboi and sons Kuenrab and Phuensum were given the chance to speak before the court. "We were unprepared," Tandin said. "But the judge assured us that what my family would say won't be on the record. After that, the prosecutor and I read our written rebuttals before the judge."Tandin ended his written rebuttal with a passage from the Bible. "I was able to share my testimony too, and I emphasized that the Christians in Bhutan pray for the nation and for the Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King), His Majesty."The evidence hearing will be on 3 December. "On that day, the prosecutor and I will present to the judge our written evidences. The judge will also allow us to speak."
Tandin has been accused of presenting a film to the public without permission and illegally soliciting funds. He was arrested along with another pastor, David, after a neighbour complained about a conference they were holding in a house church in March.They were both found guilty by the Dorokha lower court in September. While David was able to pay a fine in exchange for his prison sentence, Tandin has been sentenced to almost three years in prison with no possibility of a payment in exchange for jail time."I'm no longer hoping for a reversal of the Dorokha court's decision," said Tandin. "That would mean embarrassment to the country's judiciary. I am, however, appealing for a reduction of my sentence, so I could at least pay a fine or post bail. If the Samtse District Court decides against my appeal, I go straight to jail."
He has now found a Thimphu-based lawyer sympathetic to his case. Tandin could be the first Christian pastor in Bhutan to assert his legal rights in a court under a democratic government. The country was ruled by the Druk Gyalpo until 2008, when the King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, transitioned Bhutan from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliament.A government body was established to regulate religious organisations in Bhutan. However, it has yet to recognise Christianity as an official religion, alongside Buddhism and Hinduism. The Religious Organisations Act of Bhutan states that the existence of religious organisations is for the 'protection of the country's spiritual heritage', referring to Buddhism.
Tandin has described the whole legal battle as a 'journey of intimacy with God'."Thank you all for your help and unceasing prayer support for me and for my family," said Tandin. "Last Friday I received three big envelopes with the prayer cards inside! I'm so much blessed reading those."Bhutan is currently number 31 on our World Watch List, the annual ranking of the 50 most difficult countries for Christians to practice their faith. Of Bhutan's population of 774,000, about 2.5 per cent are Christians. Bhutanese Christians are often pressured to recant their faith in this predominantly Buddhist country, and most pastors hold their church meetings secretly.Source: Open Doors