… in defamation case. Defendants to submit rebuttal on Sept. 26. 

Judiciary: Sonam Phuntsho who filed a defamation case against freelance journalist Namgay Zam and Dr Shacha Wangmo is claiming Nu 2.59 million as compensation if he wins the case.

“Should the two of them fail to prove the allegations that went viral in Namgay Zam’s Facebook post, I’m claiming 10 percent of the amount the case was worth,” Sonam Phuntsho said to a packed court, during its first hearing of the case yesterday.

He said that the post has done him irreparable damage as many people across the world had seen the post. The case has generated much interest within the country as well, he said.

The courtroom could not accommodate half of the people who had come to attend the hearing. Court officials even removed furniture to make as much space available for those in queue.

Thimphu dzongkhag Chief Judge Kinley Namgyal even allowed a few more people to occupy seats that were otherwise reserved for court officials.

Soon after the courtroom fell silent, Sonam Phuntsho submitted that the 25 allegations against him were all false.

Sonam Phuntsho submitted to the court that the duo should prove the 25 accusations made against him on social media.

He said that the case between him and Dr Shacha Wangmo’s mother, Tandin Bidha, was taken from dzongkhag court to the Supreme Court.

Except for those involved in the case and a few others, the rest stood obediently, silent.

On August 10, Namgay Zam had posted on her Facebook page a lengthy story written by Dr Shacha Wangmo on a court case against Sonam Phuntsho.

She alleged that he tried to take away her family 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 to Nu 3 million with compound interest.

A court battle ensued. Dr Shacha Wangmo’s sister disappeared while the trial was underway. It ended up with the Supreme Court re-examining the case.

The Supreme Court delivered its verdict yesterday afternoon. The court asked Dr Shacha Wangmo’s mother to pay Nu 18 million to Sonam Phuntsho within three months. Otherwise, he would gain possession of half the building in Changzamtog, Thimphu on the condition that he pay the loans and penalties owed by Sonam Wangmo to a bank.

Sonam Phuntsho said the whole story is false. Instead he said he had bought the building from the sister and had all documents.

Sonam Phuntsho said that Sonam Wangmo was in Siliguri for a year and then moved to Nepal where she lives after marrying a Tibetan man.

Dr Shacha Wangmo wasn’t aware of the defamation case against her. Both of them said that they stand by their actions.

Namgay Zam said that she has not violated any laws.

She said that as an individual and an independent journalist, the Constitution gives her the freedom to disseminate information.

“Even the people had the right to information,” she said, adding that she had shared what Dr Shacha had written.

Dr Shacha Wangmo said that the write up was not to defame anybody but written out of frustrations with the developments of the case.

As written in the social media post, Dr Shacha Wangmo said that her sister was conned and “drawn into a trap”.

She said that her estranged brother-in-law had bought a vehicle from Sonam Phuntsho and could not pay for it. Her sister was asked to signed the agreement as he did not have any property.

Namgay Zam wrote to the Journalists Association of Bhutan (JAB) yesterday asking the association to help her to resolve the defamation case filed against her.

JAB President Rinzin Wangchuk appealed to the Court during the hearing to dismiss the defamation case against its member, Namgay Zam.

“The defamation case filed by Sonam Phuntsho against freelance journalist Namgay Zam, firstly can set an unusual precedent as the matter is under sub-judice before the Supreme Court,” he said.

He said that Facebook is an unregulated social media often difficult to control by any standard. Citizens use social media to voice their concerns, debate, and discuss a range of issues. While it is necessary to control malicious use of social media platforms, any judicial action could come at the cost of the greater common good.

“This defamation case could undermine freedom of expression guaranteed by the supreme law of the land,” he said.

Further, a case of this nature could set a precedent whereby the courts could be flooded with defamation cases, he said.

The judge declined the appeal after Sonam Phuntsho said it was unfair to him.

When the chief judge asked the audience if anyone had any issues, a woman stood up and claimed that Sonam Wangmo had borrowed money from her family too. She added that Sonam Wangmo had a habit of borrowing and had debts with others as well.

Dr Shacha Wangmo and Namgay Zam will submit their rebuttal during the next hearing on September 26.

Tshering Palden