Warns of stringent action if found distributing offensive videos and photographs 

Crime: Following the recent circulation of obscene videos and photographs of children on the popular mobile application, WeChat and social media sites, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) has appealed people to not distribute such contents.

RBP officials said of late, videos and photographs of children where they are sexually depicted are being shared in the public domain.

One of the several videos that are being circulated, according to police, is of a naked infant sitting on top of a woman in a sexual position. Another photograph, police said is of a Bhutanese child playing with a wooden phallus.

Even if such clips or photographs don’t involve Bhutanese, police officials said it was morally incorrect.

RBP in its social media pages requested people not to distribute child pornography and that it is a punishable offense. “Let us respect our children,” the agency twitted last week.

RBP’s spokesperson, deputy chief of crime and operations Colonel Dorji Wangchuk said sharing of such obscene clips and photographs is a crime.

“This could have an impact on the social wellbeing of the child as well,” Colonel Dorji Wangchuk said.

Although making and sharing of pornography is illegal in Bhutan, the punishment is not severe. Section 476 of the penal code states that, if a person publishes and distributes an obscene photograph or picture on the computer or over the Internet, a crime of computer pornography has been committed.  This crime is a misdemeanor, carrying a sentence between one to three years.

An Internet service provider can also be charged with this crime if it is knowingly acting as a host or channel for the pornographic material to be transmitted. Section 381 of the penal code also deals with distribution of obscene material and prescribes a petty misdemeanor sentence of a month to a year.

Despite three arrests between 2014-15 and a petition filed against amateur pornography, circulation of such clips in the public domain continues to increase, say police.

Although RBP has warmed stringent action, distribution of such clips, most of which are shot through mobile phones, is still rampant. Ranging from less than a minute to about four minutes, the clips usually show the women’s faces. While some videos seem consensual, some appear involuntary and others are taken through hidden cameras.

Last year, about 2,300 people signed an online petition demanding specific and strict laws against the non-consensual distribution of sexual materials that was submitted to the prime minister.

For a small country like Bhutan, observers said that sharing of obscene clips and photographs is bound to increase given the increased access to smart phones.

When the prime minister accepted the petition last October, he assured stricter penalties and that the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) Act would be amended.

However stricter laws alone won’t make much of a difference in tackling the issue, say observers. They said laws should be backed by education and awareness.

Kinga Dema