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Oct 23, 2011

Goodbye BhutanTimes.com.

After a long period of not being able to access BhutanTimes.com (not the newspaper but the online forum) and after much speculation of wondering if it was blocked or not, it is finally clear from the site that it has shut down. 

This is what it says on the site:

*Goodbye from The Bhutan Times* We have been experiencing some technical difficulties for some time now, and have not been able to fix it. As some long time readers will know, over the years we have depended on our webmaster to handle these technical issues. Unfortunately, his services are less available now owing to his recent success (he has been hired by a top new Silicon Valley venture and works 18-hour days now). We are very happy for him, but this means that the Bhutan Times will no longer be getting his attention when it is most needed. So the rest of us, The Editor, Wayword and Paul had a recent discussion, and figured that perhaps this is just as well. The Bhutan Times has had a good run, lasting over seven years now since we opened in 2004. During that time we have helped to push the boundaries of social discussion in Bhutan, helped to create awareness of the issues that affect all of us, and in many more useful ways than we realize, allowed for the meeting of minds and the building of a shared consciousness at a national level. It's a small contribution by the four of us who share in common our good wishes and disposition to the Kingdom of Bhutan. As we say farewell, thank you and good luck to all our readers, like our Webmaster, we too will now turn our attentions to our individual careers and lives. Goodbye - it's been a good ride. Palden Drukpa Gyalo!

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As much as we would like to dismiss it as a mere gossip site, Bhutantimes.com was pretty resourceful in getting a feel of what Bhutanese people were thinking, or had to say about certain issues. It was a popular forum that allowed for Bhutanese to vent without inhibitions or worries.


To this day I don't think anyone can say who ran Bhutantimes.com. Although on the site it indicates that it was run/managed from outside of Bhutan, nobody has been able to ascertain who started it or who was behind it.  Many Bhutanese like to dismiss it as a "Ngolop" site (meaning it was run by Bhutanese refugees) but I would think that was not so. Most of those posting on it were Bhutanese from inside Bhutan who seemed to possess valuable information, gossip as well as details of information that outsiders would never know of. One thing for sure is that it was not government run and it is mot likely it was maintained from not within Bhutan but most likely from outside, possibly the U.S

As a citizen media personnel, it was very interesting for me to read the posts and assess what was happening in Bhutan because Bhutantimes.com was uncensored.  Truth be told, it may have even played a very important role in the first democratic elections of Bhutan, at a time when facebook and twitter did not exist. It was one of the first and few forums where so many Bhutanese got together to talk about candidates and share inside information about them.

Although I used it purely to read and get a feel of what people were saying, I am sure people who engaged in the discussions or saw it as an outlet for their frustrations will miss the forum immensely. After all nobody knows how secure the other forums in Bhutan are.

There have been stories of how officials and people in positions of power have sought to seek the identity of Bhutanese posters in forums especially if they have posted information about them. I do not know of any concrete stories but there have been rumors of how some were identified and dealt with.
At some point (several years ago - probably during the time of the elections) Bhutantimes.com was even blocked in Bhutan (although some tech-savvy Bhutanese seemed to know how to get around it by using proxy servers etc.)

That was the only time I knew of Bhutanese officials trying to interfere. Since that time there have been no accounts of censorship and I hope that there will be none.  Although, just before I wrote this post I was trying to search stories to the story on the beating of a Bhutanese student by a police officer in Bhutan and every possible link on this story was disabled. It was when I then turned to Bhutantimes.com to see what people might have to say about this issue when I saw their message. Already, I have lost a valuable source.

Whether the person behind Bhutantimes.com has been hired by Silicon Valley; whether the other was really "Paul" and that there was an Editor "Wayward", all I can say is that Bhutantimes.com has walked away with a wealth of information on Bhutan - even if it is in the form of gossip and hearsay.

I only hope that the Bhutanese will be able to find another forum that can replace it; one that will be able to provide them the space to vent their grievances without facing consequences.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes,its sad to see bhutantimes down for good. It was explicit and informative. I have a weird feeling that some higher officials in our govt might have had a thing or two behind the shut down of the site.