The rebuttal made by Namgay Zam and Dr. Shacha Wangmo was heard on Monday, 26th September with over 30 people of the general public and media houses in attendance at Bench 1 of the Thimphu District Court.
The crowd having punctually arrived at 9 am milled around the courtroom for a little over an hour during which time the more vocal members exchanged their opinions on what the “just” outcome of the case should be. One supporter had driven from Paro solely to witness the trial.
Ap Sonam Phuntsho himself appeared oblivious to the situation, smiling and making small talk with anyone nearby. The defendants on the other hand were constantly approached by people. A group of detainees in handcuffs looked at the crowd in surprise as they were led away by police.
Inside the courtroom there was only just room enough to have the spectators and litigants seated. Some were accommodated alongside the registrars and bench clerk. The court read out the written submissions of the defendants for the benefit of the spectators and then gave them leave to supplement verbally.
Former BBS TV anchor Namgay Zam said her facebook page covered stories beyond journalistic scope and contained humorous, moving and upsetting pieces too. “I shared it because Dr Shacha’s story moved me and so was over 5000 other people who shared the story,” said Namgay Zam “Had it been a piece of journalism, it would have been published via a licensed media house.”
She said hearing the story had brought to mind His Majesty The King’s 2011 National day speech in which His Majesty asked of corruption, “will we allow it (…..) or will we meet the challenge and overcome it..” and so had shared it in public interest and as a contribution in the fight against corruption.
Namgay Zam added that the story, which Dr. Shacha had consistently maintained throughout the case was the same version submitted to the District, High and Supreme courts and she had added nothing besides the fact that Dr.Shacha had been a topper in medical school and so she could not see how it amounted to defamation. Besides, the story was quoted in inverted commas and not presented as her own, she said.
She said that even before her post people already talked of him as “dangerous, a crook and liar” and he had also been charged with sexual assault. To prove his reputation has been irreparably damaged he must prove that he had a stellar reputation to begin with. She pleaded that the case be dismissed on the grounds that it was the very same case judged by the Supreme Court which had proven neither side’s story and that it was a direct attack on their fundamental rights. If the case was continued and the plaintiff fails to prove he had suffered concrete losses then he be made liable to pay damages besides bearing lawful punishment. She also pleaded that the court recognize her submissions in English as she feared a loss in translation of her arguments.
To her plea of dismissal the honorable judge responded that the court would observe a citizen’s right to an exhaustive hearing.
Dr. Shacha Wangmo said that it was Ap Sonam Phuntsho who had in fact made defamatory statements about her and her mother in saying the sister had been hidden in Jaigaon and Siliguri and had been visited secretly. “If that was truly the case, it would have been in his own interest to inform the police. Did he not inform because he would have been at a disadvantage then,” she asked, adding that he had given many conflicting statements to the courts of law.
The judge assured Sonam Phuntsho the next hearing would be his rebuttal but he wanted to make a statement.
He presented his story as was related in the original case and then went on the offensive. “Namgay Zam has spread an image of me as a goonda (thug) across the world and their claims that the Chief Justice, being my son-in-law, helped me win cases has marred the reputation of the judicial system and the whole country in the eyes of the world while the fact of the matter is that he declared a conflict of interest and was not involved in any way in the case,” he said.
He went on to opine the injustice of the Supreme Court in passing a verdict that required him to pay the loan amount of 12mn of the half of the house he was given as restitution for the 18mn he was owed. A shocked murmur escaped from the spectators when Sonam Phuntsho said he wondered whether the Supreme Court Justices were drunk or had been bribed while passing the judgment.
“It is shocking to me that these people (defendants) do not know head or tail of the true nature of the case and yet have a whole lot of points to make here.”
While he had been making his submissions Dr Shacha kept shaking her head and Namgay Zam was looking at him. The agitated Ap SP, already nettled by the defendants’ vocal disbelief, took offense to the latter and demanded that the court order her to cease eyeballing him even attempting some indignation in English. He also said that Namgay Zam was still posting about the case on her page despite being ordered not to do so by the court.
After restoring order, the Honorable Judge warned the litigants too keep from making personal attacks at each other. He told the litigants to remember that this case was entirely different from the previous case. He again warned that no posts or comments be made by the parties regarding the case.
There was a slight delay in fixing the date of the next hearing due to prior engagements of Namgay Zam and the RCSC exams of Dr. Shacha. The court said they could opt to have lawyers represent them if they had prior engagements but Dr. Shacha said that there weren’t any lawyers willing to take up their case. The next hearing was fixed for the 5th of October.