Update: The High Court’s bench I on Tuesday (October 27) acquitted two men who were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Mongar dzongkhag court for vandalizing choetens last year.

A taxi driver from Sershong, Jigme Yeshi, 32, and a 58-year-old businessman from Shermung, Kinzang Wangdi, were sent for life imprisonment for accompanying Langa Dorji, 32, to rob choetens in Mongar and also for having involved in smuggling of stolen relics.

Jigme Yeshi was also convicted of robbing the Jangchub choeten in Shershong village in Mongar, while Kinzang Wangdi was convicted of smuggling a relic and vandalizing the Jangchub choeten in Joi, Chaskhar gewog.

Another appellant, Minjur, 58, from Sheryong village, Shermung gewog, who was sentenced to four years in prison, was also acquitted. He was convicted for assisting Langa Dorji and Tashi in robbing a choeten in Shermung gewog in 2012.

The three were acquitted based on the ground that the charges, the dzongkhag court levied against them could not be corroborated and proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The verdict states that the High Court deferred the dzongkhag court’s judgment of the three defendants in accordance with section 156 of The Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan, 2001.

According to the High Court’s verdict, the trial court has convicted the men based on their confessions to the police and the dzongkhag court.

However, the verdict says that the Evidence Act of Bhutan, 2005, requires that the accused should be entitled to corroborative evidence and that the prosecution should establish with the evidence even if the accused confessed before the investigation agencies and admit to the crime before the court.

Therefore, the court ruled that the defendants were convicted without following the due process of summary trial and the defendants’ right for fair proceedings were violated.

Of the three appellant who were sentenced to life imprisonment, Ugyen Tshering, 25, from Yangkhar appealed to the High Court for reduction of sentence from life imprisonment to a fixed number of sentencing.

He was convicted for accompanying Tashi and vandalizing the Jangchub choeten of Karphu in Shermung gewog. However, the High Court dismissed the appeal affirming the dzongkhag court’s judgment.

While the High Court acquitted the defendants because the prosecution could not produce corroborating evidence, they will be accordingly sentenced if proven otherwise in the future.

“The objective of criminal justice system is to punish the guilty and that no innocent should suffer,” High Court Justice, Lungten Dubgyur said. “Further our justice system upholds the principle that people should regret of their crimes and be reformed.”

Langa Dorji, from Zorgyen village in Chaskhar gewog is one of the 19 men involved in vandalizing choetens in Mongar and other dzongkhags. He was sentenced to 12 lifetime imprisonment for vandalizing and robbing 12 choetens.

Dechen Tshomo