Verdict: How the courts constitute what defamation is remains unanswered with Sonam Phuntsho (Ap SP) withdrawing his libel case against Namgay Zam and Dr Shacha Wangmo a day before the judgment.

The court’s acceptance of the withdrawal petition from Ap SP left the defendants, who were not consulted on the withdrawal, troubled and frustrated.

Namgay Zam said that bringing closure to the trial was a relief but the judgment was far from what they expected.

The defendants said that they were dissatisfied with the judgment because the court did not make a stand on the case.

“We still don’t know which party is right? I was ready for punishment should the court find me guilty,” Namgay Zam said.

Sonam Phuntsho said that he withdrew the case based on circumstances.

“After Dr Shacha Wangmo’s family could not return my money within three months according to the Supreme Court verdict, the court has issued an order to the Department of National Properties to auction the building at Changzamtog and pay me Nu 18 million that they owe me,” he said.  “As the matter on the property case is now settled, I withdrew the case because we live in a Gross National Happiness country.”

Thimphu dzongkhag court’s Chief Judge Kinley Namgay in his verdict cited section 53 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan’s on Withdrawal and Adjustment of Suits. It states: “At any time after the institution of a suit, a plaintiff may, as against all or any of the defendants abandon his or her suit or a part of his or her claim”.

In CCPC, Section 153.1 states that the party may be liable for such costs as the court may award calculated in accordance with the minimum wage.

The verdict requires Sonam Phuntsho to pay Nu 45,000 to the defendants for undue inconveniences they have suffered for more than five months during the trial. The amount was calculated based on the national wage rate for a year.

“For us it was never about money,” said Namgay Zam outside the court after the judgment yesterday. “We’re fighting for freedom of speech and our fundamental rights.”

The ending reflected the entire mood of the trial: one mired in confusion and begging for clarity.

Unlike the past hearings, Chief Judge Kinley Namgay concluded the hearing in less than 10 minutes.

But the litigants remained seated, unable to absorb the verdict and observers in the court were perplexed.

On August 10, Namgay Zam had posted on her Facebook page a long story written by Dr Shacha Wangmo on a court case against Sonam Phuntsho. She alleged that he tried to take away her family’s building in Changzamtog, Thimphu when an estranged family member could not repay Nu 0.7 million borrowed from him. She claimed that the amount had increased manifold with compound interest. A court battle ensued.

Sonam Phuntsho filed the case claiming Nu 2.59 million as compensation for irreparable damage to his reputation in a packed court at the first hearing. He submitted that the 25 allegations against him posted on Namgay Zam’s Facebook page were false. He said that the case between him and Dr Shacha Wangmo’s family was a decided matter as the Supreme Court had issued two judgments already.

He increased the claim asking for compensation for the medication he had to allegedly take for “mental shock”. The claim fell through because he could not produce a valid medical certificate to prove that he had suffered depression or trauma, as he had claimed.

The parties made more allegations and submitted more evidence as the case progressed. Namgay Zam, trying to prove that Ap SP had no reputation to protect, revealed alleged crimes he was involved in ranging from sexual assault, molestation of minors, and a foreign visa scam.

Sonam Phuntsho responded with allegations of extramarital affairs and picked on her family members and their history.

Namgay Zam had asked the court to dismiss the case because the plaintiff was not defamed, while Dr Shacha Wangmo maintained what she wrote was true.

Namgay Zam asked the court to find Sonam Phuntsho guilty of cantankerous litigation and asked for payment for appropriate damages to the defendants.

The case attracted international attention with news media such as the New York Times and The Guardian, among others.

In a video posted on her Facebook page yesterday, Namgay Zam thanked her well-wishers for supporting her.

This is the second defamation case to conclude in a span of weeks. Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s defamation case against Dasho Paljor J Dorji was withdrawn leaving followers still undecided on the outcome of defamation cases.

Tshering Palden