OAG has received about 88 cases involving 133 people so far

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Samtse court sentenced a 16-year-old student from Gomtu to two years in prison for breach of public order and tranquillity and for criminal nuisance last month.

The convict has been sent to Youth Development and Rehabilitation Centre in Tsimasham, Chukha.

The convict was arrested after a neighbour informed  police about her returning home through illegal route without informing the authority.

The convict, who is a Class IX student, had gone to visit her relatives across the border.

Before she could return home, the borders were sealed on March 23 owing to Covid-19 pandemic. She had to stay with her relatives. But after she got the news that the schools may re-open soon, she tried to return to ensure that she did not miss school.

The OAG prosecutor said that instead of returning through proper channel she had called her sister to assist her to enter Bhutan from one of the illegal routes along Gomtu. “They had managed to enter, but later, one of the tshogpas complained and they were arrested. She, along with her sister, were quarantined for 21 days and later convicted.”    

Her sister was sentenced to one year in prison for aiding and abetting in criminal nuisance.

This is one of the many cases the OAG have received since the border closure, especially from Gelephu and Samtse where there is an increasing number of illegal trespassing or sneaking cases.

The OAG has received about 88 cases involving 133 people so far, and the cases have been increasing. Of the 88 cases as of last week, 51 (72 persons involved) are from Samtse, and 24 cases (32 persons involved) are from Gelephu.

A total of three cases from Chukha involving eight persons was registered; five cases involving 15 persons from Phuentsholing; another two cases involving three people from Samdrupjongkhar; and one case involving two people from Zhemgang.

With the borders sealed and the country fighting to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus, the OAG charged people against with Criminal Nuisance, Section 410 and 411 (b) of the Penal Code of Bhutan and 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 fourth degree, which is liable for a prison term of 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.

In another case, a man was convicted to four years in prison for illegally sneaking out to Indian border town. The man had ordered 2kg flour from border town and went to get it the next day. “Patrolling team caught him while returning,” OAG official said.

A woman was also sentenced to four years in prison after she had called her boyfriend, who is a non-Bhutanese who came through illegal routes. “He had come in and stayed for two weeks and did not go out anywhere. But a neighbour saw the man and complained to the police.”

The man was, however, surrendered and sent back to his home. The OAG official said that if a person is a non-Bhutanese, he or she is usually surrendered.

The attorney said that although the cases might seem petty but given the risk of Covid-19 virus there was every chance of these people going to border town and bringing in the virus risking the entire population and the country.

One of the cases concerns a man in Samtse for trespassing the border to drink water. According to the OAG, the man with his five-year-old son was returning home. When a son asked for water, the man trespassed the border and asked water from a nearby Indian village. A patrolling team caught him. The man was later sentenced to four years in prison.

According to the prosecutor, if a person is caught for breaching the public order or entering Bhutan through illegal routes, the person is first surrendered to health officials and quarantined. Upon completion of 21 days quarantine period and, if the person tests negative for Covid-19, the police escort the person to the court and is convicted in a week’s time.

Another prosecutor said that given the risks involved, on one is acquitted if charged with breaching and criminal nuisance and is sentenced under non-compoundable, which means the convict cannot pay in lieu of the prison terms/sentence.

If a person is caught with the illegal possession of tobacco or trafficking of illicit drugs, the person would also be charged as per the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2018, which would be a third-degree felony.