High drama after high profile defamation suit ends with withdrawal
The much publicized defamation suit by Sonam Phuntsho, also known as Ap SP, against Namgay Zam and Dr Shacha Wangmo legally ended after Ap SP withdrew the case, a day before the verdict given on 24th January 2017.
However, the drama was far from over as all three parties gave strong and emotional explanations and reactions to the withdrawal verdict outside the courtroom.
A medium sized crowd of mainly journalists covering the case and a few others gathered outside the district courtroom, from 9.30 am onwards on Tuesday morning. There was excited banter on what the verdict would be while a few speculated about rumors of Ap SP having withdrawn the case.
Once inside, the small district courtroom saw what was the shortest court proceeding in the entire case as Judge Kinley Namgay said that Ap SP had submitted an application to withdraw the libel case the day before on Monday which is why the case has been withdrawn.
The Judge said that Ap SP had stated in his withdrawal letter that the Supreme Court had passed an order to the Department of National Property (DNP) to auction half of Tandin Bidha and Sonam Wangmo’s building and pay him Nu 18 mn.
Apart from a brief reading of the case history by a court official the Judge cited section 153 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) which allows a plaintiff to withdraw his case.
Section 153 says that a plaintiff at any time after instituting the suit can withdraw his or her case or a part of the claim against the defendants.
However, the judge also quoted section 153.1 which says that such a party may be liable for the costs as calculated by the judge using the minimum wage. The judge announced that for the harassment caused to the two defendants for the five month course of the trial, Ap SP is to pay one year’s minimum wage of Nu 45,000 as compensation.
For a crowd who had come expecting more, many remained seated after the anti-climax moment even after the Judge dismissed the case leading to the judge to joke if there was anything else the others wanted.
Outside the district courtroom high drama unfolded with both sides reacting to the verdict and the also the information conveyed on the Supreme Court order to DNP.
Both Namgay Zam and Dr Shacha were unhappy that there was no verdict and what incensed them and especially Dr Shacha was Ap SP’s claim that the Supreme Court had given an order to auction half the building.
Going first, an emotional Namgay Zam standing only a few meters away from Ap SP said, “You know I find it really funny that Bhutanese think it is all about the money, I bloody don’t care about the money or the 45,000 we are getting at the end of it.”
She said that the whole fight was about justice for Dr Shacha’s family who faced severe injustice.
“Even the common man after presenting the facts knew there was something wrong with them having to lose their entire property just after having borrowed some lakhs,” said Namgay Zam.
She said that she is relieved that the pressure disappears but she is very unhappy about the verdict as it was supposed to be a ‘landmark case’ for the boundaries of the social media and media.
She said that the Nu 45,000 and the case withdrawal is like a ‘bribe’ for them to keep quite as she was talking to the international media.
Namgay pointed out that while they had been dragged for defamation Ap SP was now withdrawing the case because he is happy getting his money.
“Bloody, I don’t even need his 45,000 he can take it and do whatever he wants with it and lend it to somebody else with all the interests he wants back,” exclaimed Namgay as she turned towards Ap SP and gave a glare.
Next to go was a depressed looking Dr Shacha who was sitting down even closer to Ap SP who stood barely three arm lengths away well within earshot of the interview.
Dr Shacha Wangmo while also relieved with the verdict was unhappy about the Supreme Court allowing the auction of her mother’s one half of the building.
Dr Shacha said, “I was always right about what I thought of the whole system. I thought after all this hype and after all the attention the media has gathered there might be some change in the system, but no, there is no change. We were victims, we are victims and we will be victims.”
“This fight was not only about me and Namgay Zam but I thought I will take this initiative so that other families will not suffer like my family and at least it will reduce and stop somewhere. I thought even if we don’t win the case it will strike the consciousness of some people, but no, I was wrong, I was totally wrong.”
She said that after the whole five months they are just being given the Nu 45,000 almost like a ‘bribe’ to shut up.
Dr Shacha said that she was mainly troubled with the reason that Ap SP was withdrawing the case, which is because he is getting his money as the Supreme Court has given an auction order to the DNP to auction half her mother’s building without even informing her mother and the Bhutan National Bank. She said this is not even in keeping with the final verdict which have an option of either paying Ap SP the Nu 18 mn in cash or if not then the nine apartments would go to Ap Sp along with the BNB loan (see separate story on page 1).
Ap Sonam Phuntsho who all the while stood still like a tree clearly hearing most or even all of the above statements also took his chance to respond to the verdict.
Ap SP reiterated his stand in the court that he was withdrawing the case since he was getting his money based on the Supreme Court auction order.
He went a step further and said that he was also worried about the country’s image and the judiciary’s image internationally and that it would lead to ‘problems’ if he continued with the case. He said that the whole case had lead to wrongly defaming the judiciary and since the judiciary belongs to the whole of Bhutan he was worried. He said he is an ‘old timer’ citizen and he is concerned about the country.
The entire case started when Namgay Zam in August 2016 posted a piece written by Dr Shacha about her case and her family’s plight drawing widespread social media attention.
It lead to Ap SP filing a defamation case with several allegations and counter allegations from both sides drawing a lot of spotlight from the international media too.