Tsirang dzongkhag court altered the charge of making a false statement to defamation and sentenced Kalay Dukpa, 52, from Semjong to 10 months in prison.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) had charged Kalay Dukpa for violating section 560 (c) of the Election Act of Bhutan 2008, which states, “a person shall be guilty of making a false statement if he or she makes a statement or declaration in writing which is false and which he or she either knows or believes to be false or does not believe to be true, in connection with any matter relating to the conduct of election.”

Officials from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) questioned the defendant in April last year for allegedly questioning the trustworthiness of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and the postal ballot system in a Wechat group ‘DPT family 1’. The group had 496 members.

ECB, after conducting the investigation, forwarded the case to the OAG, claiming the offence is a felony in May last year.

OAG submitted to the court that Kalay Dukpa’s false statements would impact the peaceful election process, demotivate voters, disturb people from exercising their franchise, and affect the principles of a free and fair election.

The judgement stated that although the defendant confessed to have questioned the trustworthiness of the EVMs and postal ballot and the prosecutor presented electronic evidence, the prosecutor could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Kalay Dukpa breached the elements of section 560 of the ECB Act.

“There was also no evidence to prove that Kalay Dukpa made the statement during election time and the statement was not made during the National Council election, but during 2013 elections,” it stated.

According to the judgement, Kalay Dukpa questioned the trustworthiness of EVMs and postal ballots as a citizen of the country, and according to section 6 of Article 7 of the Constitution, he has the right to vote. “Exercising the right to vote is not only pressing the EVM but knowing about the candidates, the election process and other related matters.”

It stated that a Bhutanese citizen has the right to question and discuss the trustworthiness of EVMs and postal ballots.

However, the judgment stated that Kalay Dukpa had told the Wechat group members that all the postal ballots sent for Druk Phuensum Tshogpa were either torn or thrown into the river and the ballots were counted for People’s Democratic Party without any proof or evidence. “He had defamed and tarnished the reputation of ECB and its officials by criticising their work without evidence.”

The offence of defamation is graded a petty misdemeanour. Kalay Dukpa can pay thrimthue in lieu of prison term.

In April, Kalay Dukpa had questioned if the ECB officials could interrogate him, alleging him of stirring the discussion during the NC election when he made the comments on January 24 last year.

The court dismissed Kalay Dukpa’s submission and ruled that the dispute was brought before the ECB during the NC election and ECB is empowered to investigate and interrogate people during the election period as per section 37 of the Election Act.

Tashi Dema