By Vidhyapati Mishra
Just a month after amendment of Tobacco Control Act 2010 by the Parliament, King Jigme Khesar has exercised a prerogative to release 16 persons convicted of tobacco smuggling.
However, many have already started commenting that both government and the King must have understood the role of media and social network groups against tobacco law. Thanks to “Amend the Tobacco Control Act” group in the Facebook for leading the social protest.
Definitely, Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley and King Khesar got an opportunity to accept that no people can respect an act that has been termed as “draconian” by parliamentarians including the Opposition Leader (OL).
The so-called democratic constitution that has placed the King above it allows him to grant amnesty to prisoners under Article 2, Section 16 (C). This provision states, “The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal prerogatives, may grant amnesty, pardon and reduction of sentences”.
The royal amnesty has also set the first convicted monk student Sonam Tshering free.
He was arrested and detained on January 24 last year after he was caught with 48 packets of chewing tobacco that he purchased from India. Later in May, a kangaroo court convicted him and passed a verdict slapping him a jail term of 3 years.
The Prime Minister’s government was compelled to table amendment proposal of the world’s strictest tobacco law in January this year following widespread criticism from all sectors.
Accordingly, the amendment was passed and implemented as an urgent bill by the joint sitting of both the Houses.
PM Thinley become more serious fearing street protests when a petition signed by some 700 individuals asking for amendment was submitted to his government, Speaker of the National Assembly, Chairman of the National Council, and the OL.
From the time the act came into operation, altogether 59 persons including three non-Bhutanese have been charged of possession, sale or smuggling of tobacco products. Of them, over 20 have been convicted of smuggling and jailed.
The new amendment provides all tobacco convicts to deposit a fixed amount sufficient enough to suit the jail term defined by the verdict.
The royal pardon has hinted that no power can suppress innocent people in the name of creating a land free of tobacco. If this happens somehow, people will protest boldly against it.