After OAG changed the defamation charges to sedition    

Younten Tshedup 

Thimphu dzongkhag court’s Bench I dismissed the case against an individual, Penjore, who was charged for sedition by the Office of the Attorney (OAG) yesterday.

Penjore was initially arrested and detained for 16 days for his alleged defamatory post on Facebook against public officials and institutions. However, when the OAG charged him to court yesterday, he was charged for sedition.

Although the media was not allowed in the miscellaneous hearing that took less than an hour, the chief judge explained that the primary reason for dismissing the case was the change in charges. 

The court issued an order later, which stated that when the police sought a remand order to detain Penjore for investigation,   the charges against the defendant were defamation and libel. 

It stated that based on the charges, the court issued a remand order and after completing the investigation, it granted bail to Penjore for two months. “When the OAG submitted the charges yesterday morning, Penjore was being charged for sedition instead of defamation.” 

The court order also stated that OAG mentioned judiciary in the case, when there were no complaints from the judiciary.

It also stated that the OAG and the state must not be treated as the same, as OAG reflected the case as ‘The State vs Penjore’. If the court takes up the case, it would set a wrong precedent, which in turn would undermine the Rule of Law, the order stated.  

The OAG posted its charges on their website yesterday morning before submitting it to the court. 

The nine-page charges detailed how Penjore had made series of ‘scurrilous and malignant’ written statements on Facebook against the state, with the particular intent to defame, encourage contempt and incite hatred against people occupying positions in public institutions, and undermine the rule of law, the democratic principles and reputation of the country. 

OAG claimed that Penjore, in his various posts had mentioned Bhutan as a lawless country, asserting a violation of the Constitution. “Such writings on the social media platform have amassed numerous comments, been shared and liked by the social media users indicating the influence of the writings, however untrue they may be.”

The OAG’s charges also stated that the seditious writings have engendered other written articles and posts furthering the spread of rumours, misinformation, and mistrust. “In addition, the comments garnered on these seditious writings indicate unnecessary alarm, concerns, and disaffection and animosity of the people towards the country and the Royal Government.”

The OAG submitted to the court that Penjore be convicted for the offence of sedition under section 331 (a) and (e) of the Penal Code of Bhutan, 2004. 

Section 331 (a) states that a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of sedition, if the defendant undermines the security, unity, integrity, or the sovereignty of Bhutan by creating animosity and disaffection among the people. 

Section 331 (e) states that a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of sedition, if the defendant issues a scurrilous and malignant statement against His Majesty or the royal government with the intent to defame, disrupt, encourage contempt, or incite hatred of the people against Bhutan.

Meanwhile, Kuensel learnt that the corpus, along with the Attorney General, decided not to appeal the case to respect judicial independence.