Dasho Sonam Kinga stands by Fb post in ECB hearing

Dasho rebuts the complaint made by DPT against him

The dispute settlement body of the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) held a nearly three-hour hearing on DPT’s complaint against a facebook post by the former National Council Thrizin Dasho Dr. Sonam Kinga.

The hearing on 7th September was attended by Dasho and the DPT General Secretary Sangay Phurba. It consisted of Dasho giving a lengthy rebuttal of DPT’s original complaints and Sangay Phurba replying to some of them.

The DPT compliant to the ECB is based on a 31st August Facebook post by Dasho Sonam Kinga sharing a summary of his upcoming book called ‘Political Contests as Moral Battles.’

Background

In the 31st August post, Dasho said, “It is about how DPT won and lost elections and many more things related to pre and post 2008 elections!”

The post started with the 19th July 2013 convention of the DPT party after it lost the 2013 elections where Dasho says DPT attacked His Majesty The King over the elections.

“The language, tone, theatrics and spectacle used to accuse and criticize the King was done in a manner which most Bhutanese believed was unacceptable and unprecedented,” wrote Dasho.

Dasho wrote that DPT’s reason for its defeat was actually very different and that it was not as popular as it was made out to be.

The post said, “The book shows that DPT’s unfounded and unjustified attack against the King that day has some important aspects. One, DPT needed to vent out the sheer emotional and psychological devastation it experienced without being able to accept defeat. Two, it needed to win over popular sympathy despite the defeat and that was best done by portraying a higher national institution like the monarchy as the cause of its defeat. Three, its attacks against the King did not begin and end that day.”

Dasho then went on to list the ways in which DPT had gone after the three major projects of His Majesty The King which are challenging the Royal Charter for DHI and requesting for its revision, questioning the rationale and need for the Royal Education Council and finally the Land Bill which sought to exclude the Gyalpoi Zimpon from the National Land Commission (NLC) even though his presence was important for Land Kidu.

“However, there are many other instances both within the Parliament and in public spaces outside where the government undermined the King,” says the post pointing out that the book discusses most of them.

The post says that in the 2008 polls DPT constructed a moral narrative of good versus evil but after winning the polls it constructed another one of  the powerless versus the powerful authority and went on to attack the King and his royal projects.

Dasho wrote saying, “The book is therefore, about the misuse and abuse of monarchy by a political party depending on political exigencies. This happened because the King and the institution of monarchy are extremely popular with the people. This popularity has been unfortunately perceived by the government as challenge to democracy although democracy was introduced in the first place by the monarchy. The gravity and diversity of attacks were uncalled for, presumptuous, unprecedented, and deemed seditious and treasonous by the Court.”

Dasho’s post wet viral and as of 7th September it had around 500 shares, 1,300 plus likes and 638 comments.

DPT’s complaint

DPT filed an initial complaint with the Media Arbitrator but since it did not follow the official format it had to be refiled on 5th September 2018.

The complaint filed by DPT General Secretary on behalf of DPT said that Dasho Dr. Sonam Kinga had filed a derogatory post during the election period after repeated notification from the ECB. It said the post contains a story with the presumable intention to demonize the party.

It said the post violates section 4.4 of the Election Social Media Rules and Regulation.

The Media Arbitrator said that its office has limited capacity and so on 6th September it forwarded the matter to the Election Commission’s Dispute Settlement Body with the facts of the case.

Dasho’s rebuttal

Dasho Dr. Sonam Kinga gave a 15-page long rebuttal, a soft copy of which was made available to media houses.

It says that the post does not violate the repeated election notification because it was made before 
the notification in the media. Dasho said, “The Media Arbitrator has not taken this factor into consideration when submitting its finding and conclusions to the Chief Election Commissioner.”

However, a media arbitrator official said that the rules come into effect from the day of the start of the election period and the notification is only issued as a reminder since a lot of online posts were being seen.

Dasho said the post is a summary of book and has been made based on concrete evidences, developments and information available in publicly accessibly spaces or modes.

It says the post does not discuss anything that is new or unknown to Bhutanese people. “The information, analysis and perspectives have been online and should be of no surprise to anyone,” said Dasho.

He said the primary basis of his Facebook post is the DPT Convention of 19th July, which is freely available on YouTube. “If this contention is not acceptable, the onus is on DPT to prove that I am wrong with my evidences,” said Dasho.

Fundamental right

Dasho said, “DPT’s complaint violates my fundamental right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression, which is enforceable in a court of law.”

Dasho said, “Article 7.2 of the Constitution grants every Bhutanese the fundamental ‘right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression.’ I invoke this right in the context of the complaint lodged by DPT.” He said his post does not apply to any of the reasonable restrictions on this right under Article 7.22.

Dasho said, “Freedom of speech, opinion and expression is not confined or limited to particular seasons, months or occasions. It is at the heart of liberal democracy! I request ECB to consider whether the Social Media Rules harmonize with this important provision of the Constitution.”

Dasho said that DPT supporters albeit anonymously have been very lavish in expression of their political opinions irrespective of whether it is election time or not.

“When DPT can exercise its own right, it should not seek to curtail, restrict or undermine the rights of other citizens. DPT’s right as a political party does not exceed or supersede rights of individual Bhutanese citizens. In fact, the Constitution grants fundamental rights to individual citizens, not entities like political parties,” said Dasho.

DPT leaders said it too

He said opinion on the same topic/subject matter during election time has been expressed before him by former DPT member contesting as PDP candidate. Dasho referred to a quote by former DPT minister and now PDP candidate Nandalal Rai hinting at the convention and its impact on the Tsa Wa Sum.

Dasho said DPT’s complaint is meaningless in the context of admission of guilt by senior DPT leaders in public forums as responses to his Facebook post, and in the light of existing information on the issues discussed which are all over the internet, newspapers and publications.

“My post has resulted in Dasho Zangley Dukpa (former Health Minister) and senior member of DPT acknowledging and accepting on his Facebook post what I have written about DPT’s convention of 13 July 2018,” said Dasho.

Action against DPT’s fake accounts

He instead asked ECB to take action against DPT and its supporters for undermining his fundamental right, discrediting his credentials, inciting and supporting violence and threatening his life as well as invoking historically sensitive events for political vendetta in relation to the facebook post.

“In exercising my right of freedom of speech and opinion, I have not used fake accounts. On the contrary, DPT and its supporters have used numerous fake Facebook accounts to not only contest and undermine my fundamental right but to incite violence and make threats of death to intimidate me. The threats were supported by way of ‘liking’ the posts by many people including an open DPT supporter,” said Dasho.

Dasho requested ECB to investigate and identify people behind such fake accounts and threats. He said they must be held accountable.

“I request ECB to identify them, hold them accountable and also require DPT to guarantee my safety from the threats and insults of their supporters,” said Dasho.

Timing

On the issue of timing of his post Dasho said that there are not new issues. He said unless it conflicts with sub-subsections a-f of Article 7.22, the Constitution has no provision that suspends the fundamental right of freedom of speech, opinion and expression during elections.

“Since my post does not conflict with these Constitutional provisions, the question of timing should not arise in the first place, as it does not arise with the abundant, derogatory and often provocative posts by DPT supporters,” said Dasho.

He also said that DPT’s premature disclosure of its complaints to the media while the matter was sub-judice with ECB forced him to explain through WeChat the contents of his facebook post to family members, relatives and friends who were deeply concerned by the media reports.

Context

Giving a context of the post he said that his post covers DPT’s campaign and election in 2007-08, its tenure and the 13th July 2013 convention. He said that in the hearing conducted by ECB, DPT has not been able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the post has reduced its electoral chances.

Dasho said that the damage done to its party’s credentials and credibility as argued by DPT in the hearing does not begin with his post. “The reference to DPT’s convention video clip as ngolop party has begun long before on YouTube and social media,” said Dasho.

He said his post is neither unsubstantiated nor unreasoned and he does not make any baseless allegations.

Dasho said that the Land Bill, Druk Holdings and Investments and the Royal Education Council issued mentioned in his post are not new issues but have been discussed in Parliament and media, and is also available on the internet and important publications.

Section 4.4

Coming to the specific section 4.4 of the social media rules Dasho said it does not convey any hate message against DPT. He said but the post “In essence, its’ intent as well as the intent of the book is to reaffirm and strengthen our loyalty and dedication to cherished institution of monarchy. In doing this, it looks at DPTs actions to illustrate how that sense of loyalty and dedication became questionable during its stay in power.”

He said its representative during the hearing cited that its honour (u-fang) has been tarnished and that its coordinators in villages have been disturbed.

“I submit as I did during the hearing that the honour of DPT has been tarnished as a ngolop party by that video clip on YouTube and subsequent posts on social media long before I posted on Facebook,” said Dasho.

Dasho said, “DPT President’s facebook post as well the complaint submitted suggests that I have demonized DPT. I think DPT demonized itself in the process of acting against the monarch.”

He argued that there was no defamation or demonization of the party as the story was told based on evidences, which were corroborated by no other than Thimphu District Court.

DPT speaks

DPT’s General Secretary Sangay Phurba, said, “What we have said is very simple. Dasho’s post is derogatory and reduces our electoral chances as he has used sentences and phrases which are very damaging.”

He said that election rules do not allow for such posts.

Responding to Dasho’s argument over freedom of speech Sangay Phurba said that the election rules themselves are drawn from the Election Act which is drawn from the Constitution to ensure free and fair elections. He said that moreover this is the election period for which there are regulations.

Sangay Phurba clarified that DPT’s complaint is not to check on whether the contents are right or wrong but on the timing of the post and its derogatory nature.

In response to Dasho Sonam King’s charge that he received death threats from DPT supporters, Sangay Phurba said that in the first place it was a reaction to the post and secondly it did not come officially from a DPT leader or its party office.

He said that the dispute settlement body had said that it may or may not have a second hearing and if it was not held then a decision would be out soon.

He said that he was informed that if any side is unhappy with the decision then they can appeal to the Commission within two days.

Update: The ECB has asked Dasho Sonam Kinga to remove the Facebook post giving a summary of his upcoming book until the election period is over.

However, DPT has also been asked to denounce all violence after Dasho had submitted threats and death threats against him by DPT supporters.

ECB has said that intent to defame does not apply as the content has not been challenged. ECB also said there is not hate message.

Dasho has also been issued a cautionary notice for translating the content into WeChat, which Dasho had said was to explain the post to his family and friends after they saw media reports.

Dasho removed the post for now and DPT issued a letter denouncing all intimidation and threats.

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