Additional penalties for smugglers crossing the border

Sections for criminal nuisance and breach of public order imposed

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Last Friday, the Phuentsholing drungkhag court sentenced a 28-year-old man to nine years for illicit trafficking of 78 capsules of Spasmo Proxyvon Plus (SP+).

The convict was arrested on April 5 near Chinese Line, which shares an open and porous border with Jaigaon. Police arrested the man around 1pm when his companion, a non-Bhutanese threw the drugs concealed inside a cricket ball over the fence.

Another 30-year-old driver was also sentenced to nine years on same accounts after he was arrested near Rinchending in Phuentsholing in possession of 1,492 SP+ capsules.

The crime according to the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2018 would be third degree felony, but with borders sealed and the country fighting to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is applying other relevant laws.

The convicts were also charged for Criminal Nuisance, Section 410 and 411 (b) of the Penal Code of Bhutan. The OAG also charged them for Breach of Public Order and Tranquillity (Section 448 and 449) of the Penal Code of Bhutan.

According to Section 410 and 411(b), a defendant is guilty of the offence of criminal nuisance, if the defendant knowingly or recklessly creates or maintains a condition including spreading of a dangerous disease that injures or endangers the safety or health of the public. The offence is graded as fourth degree, which is between three and five years.   

Section 448 and 449 states that if the defendant purposely fails to abide by the orders of the government issued in the interest of public safety, public order and tranquillity, it will be graded as a petty misdemeanour liable for imprisonment of less than one year and more than three months.

An attorney from the OAG said that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic where borders are sealed, there is an increasing number of people trespassing or sneaking in and out from illegal routes.

“Many of the people who trespassed had the intention to bring in tobacco products especially in the southern borders,” he said. “The borders were sealed on March 23. After that, we started charging additional charges of criminal nuisance and breach of public order and tranquillity.”

The attorney said that given the risk of Covid-19 virus there is every chance of these people going to border town and bring in the virus risking the entire population and the country.

“Even if someone is caught attempting to cross the border without the intention to bring in tobacco products, the person would still be charged for Section 411(b) and 448,” the attorney said. “This is to ensure that the person receives harsher punishment for not abiding by the government’s order in the current situation.”

The OAG also charged another six in Sarpang and Gelephu on same accounts. Some of the cases are yet to be charged to the court. Most of these suspects were caught by patrolling team consisting of police personnel and DeSuups.

One of the cases concerns a driver who trafficked Nu 4,000 worth of tobacco products – 500 sticks of cigarettes and 4,140gms of chewing tobacco. Another case is of a driver who went to Falakatta, India, to get vegetables but lied about his travel history. However, since he had travelled before March 23, he would be charged for criminal nuisance. He was quarantined for 21 days.

One of the suspects would be charged on the same ground for crossing the border to meet his non-Bhutanese friends and keeping three Indian workers without a work permit. He will also be charged against Section 128(c) of Immigration Act 2007, which is a petty misdemeanour.

Another suspect had trafficked Nu 10,000 worth of tobacco products while one of the suspects went to a friend in a border town to have alcohol and returned home. “Although he had just met his friend and returned and didn’t bring in tobacco, he disobeyed the government order.”

Meanwhile, to encourage physical distancing, most of the hearings are done online at the OAG and to avoid travelling during the pandemic.

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