Read the judgment before assuming, says judges

Tashi Dema 

Amidst numerous allegations against the judiciary and the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) for botched investigation and miscarriage of justice in sentencing a teacher who was convicted of sexually molesting 10 students in Tsirang, the judiciary issued a statement saying that there was no miscarriage of justice.

Officials from the Supreme Court (SC) said the public should read the judgment before making baseless allegations and conclusions.

“A judge speaks through the judgment and our judgments clearly mention why the teacher was convicted of the crime based on evidence submitted by relevant legal authorities,” a senior judge said.

Judiciary clarified that the Tsirang dzongkhag court had accepted the three-page appeal signed by 10 parents on July 10, 2020, through the defence lawyer.

Allegations made online by netizens claimed the court never accepted the appeal and it was not submitted to higher courts.

According to the judiciary, after completing the documentary evidence hearing, both parties were given the opportunity to call any witnesses, but both prosecutor and defence lawyer did not want to call any person to the court, and accordingly submitted in writing their waiver to summon witnesses.

“The court did not summon the parents in accordance with the procedures,” a judge stated. “The appeal from the parents was not only accepted in the court, but it has also been scanned and shared in the judgment.”

The judge also denied hiding any documents and stated that during the judicial investigation, the principal of the school was asked to bring nine children to the court and in accordance with the Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan, the judge met with the children and spent some time to understand the children’s capability of submitting reliable and truthful statements and to see if they remembered incidences from the case.

“The children were found to be very capable of articulating their thoughts and also showed signs of fear,” a judge stated. “Since the court found the children to be reliable witnesses, they were sent back to school with their principal.”

Court officials also said they called the parents, a representative from the school and the children the next day. “The court sat with each child, their parents and the teacher and asked to repeat what transpired.”

It was stated that children shared their thoughts in front of their parents and teacher and the statement was also signed by all three of them. “Before signing the statement, it was read out to the parents in Dzongkha and even explained in Lhotshamkha to some.”

Officials also said that during the hearing, three parents submitted that the defendant would never molest their children and one parent said police forced her to sign the complaint letter. “All these were taken into consideration and further investigation was also held on the matter with all the parties involved.”

According to court officials, they accepted the evidence as children stood as witnesses to each other stating that their teacher would pinch for no reason. “Children have also submitted before the court that they never felt comfortable and did not like it when the teacher would pinch them for no reason.”

Officials also claimed that during the judicial investigation, the defendant submitted videos filmed by his relatives where they have asked the children to deny that the teacher touched them inappropriately.

“In the video, there is a child who said that the teacher, who is her relative, kisses her affectionately. However the defendant strongly denied kissing her and contradicted his own evidence,” a court official stated. “The children stood as witnesses to each other. The children have submitted that they never felt comfortable when the teacher kissed them.”

Another court official stated that when the convict, Dil Bahadur Chettri, was first arrested and brought before the court to obtain a remand order, the court assessed if there was a prima-facie to detain him for further investigations.

“At the time of the preliminary inquiry, in presence of a representative from RBP, Dil Bahadur Chettri said he used to punish students by slapping when he was in his former school and he started pinching them as a means of punishment when he reached Gosarling School,” the official said. “When he was asked why he had to pinch the private parts of all the body parts, he said that it was a mistake on his part.”

The official said the state prosecutor submitted the confession statement of the defendant written in English, which the defendant very well comprehended as evidence. “The victims’ statements were taken by police in presence of representatives from NCWC.”

Judiciary also claimed there was a video recording where the police officer read out the contents of the statement written by the defendant and verified it by asking him before he signed the statement.

Court officials said the parents could forgo the compensation if they do not want it, but that doesn’t mean Dil Bahadur Chettri will be exonerated of the crime.

“It’s the state’s responsibility to deter such crime by punishing the guilty,” an official from the SC said.

He also questioned if people could go around and ask for statements. “There are certain procedures that have to be followed when we take statements. Only competent authority can do that.”

The official also said that while the judiciary is not involved in the investigation as it is the mandate of other organisations, they followed due process once the case reached the court.

Meanwhile, it was learnt that some Tsirang residents and parents would come to Thimphu to appeal to authorities for reinvestigation of the case.