Police begin naming and shaming suspects

However some are questioning the legality and ethics of such a measure

With the growing popularity of social media, it has now become a trend for people to upload photographs of suspects on social media platforms like Facebook and WeChat. Recently, even mainstream media and the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) uploaded images of suspects.

The recent incident where RBP issued a press release along with the photograph of a person accused of raping and murdering a 19-year-old girl in Samtse and mainstream media using the picture along with their stories generated debate.

Some even questioned if RBP, as an investigating agency, has the legal right to take such a measure, as section 16 of article 7 of the Constitution states that a person charged with a penal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty in accordance with the law.

Police chief Colonel Chimi Dorji said that over the years, the number of crimes in the country has increased and more severe crimes are being committed. He said that people should be more cautious.

Colonel Chimi Dorji said that the Constitution has given the people the right to information. “People are curious to know of any crimes in their community and as a law enforcing agency, it is our responsibility to protect the safety of the people and the community,” he said.

He said that the police is taking a bold step and posting pictures of suspects on their Facebook page to inform people of criminals and crimes so that people are alerted.

The police chief said that the RBP will adopt the naming and shaming policy depending on the severity of the case to deter crimes in the country, irrespective of rank and background of the suspect. “We will also post pictures of the suspects involved in huge drug peddling on our Facebook page,” the police chief said.

The police chief said RBP will provide pictures of the suspects involved in heinous crimes to the media along with the press release. “It is up to the media to use the picture or not but the police will have the pictures posted on their Facebook page.”

He said a criminal is safe if their identity is hidden from the public and that the criminal could remain a threat to society.

Colonel Chimi Dorji said that an individual has the constitutional right of privacy but the public also has a right to information.

“If we protect the individual’s right, we are denying the public’s right and vice versa,” he said. “We have to weigh the options and see whose right to value more. The discretion is with us.”

However, the police chief said that photographs of minors will not be posted online because they might have committed the crime since they are young and might not be in a position to make the right decisions for themselves.

“But as an adult, people are responsible for their own action. They should understand that their action is illegal and if they are caught then their families will be affected,” he said.

He added that if the police do not post a suspect’s photographs on its Facebook page considering that the act will victimise the suspect’s family, then the police would not be doing its job. “We posted the picture of the rape and murder suspect on our Facebook page because we want to inform people of such heinous crimes and criminals,” the police chief said.

However, some police officials said that posting photos of suspects as a measure to deter crime would also affect  people who are associated with the suspect and therefore may not be the right move. “Police should only issue photographs if the suspects are at large and a threat to people and society,” an official said.

A member of the National Assembly’s (NA) human rights committee, Ugyen Wangdi, said that legally people should avoid posting pictures of the suspects in media. “Even if it is somebody who is involved in a heinous crime, it is not appropriate to post their pictures in media unless the suspect is a danger to the society.”

Ugyen Wangdi said that the NA raised concerns when financial institutions publicised loan defaulters on national television, which was later disallowed.

He said that RBP might have their own guidelines but the right to privacy is recognised as a fundamental right under the Constitution.

“A convicted person is liable for punishment but I don’t think he or she should be named and shamed as there is a repercussion to those associated with the suspect,” he said.

Ugyen Wangdi also said that naming and shaming might not work in the way it is intended to. “Such action can harden the criminal in a person and he may repeat the crime.”

No comments could be obtained from the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA), which regulates media content, as its director general is currently on leave and other officials were not authorised to speak to the media.

Dechen Tshomo

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