Khandu Wangmo convicted for five years for sedition

The Court has deferred the case against the three defendants who distributed the seditious letters, while the charges against the other four defendants were dropped

Thimphu District Court’s Criminal Bench, on 1 September 2021, convicted Khandu Wangmo to five years in prison for her involvement in the sedition case. Though her prison term was 15 years for three counts of sedition, the court gave her a concurrent term of five years.

Seven people who were involved by Khandu Wangmo in the sedition case were also prosecuted, and as per the judgment, except for three defendants who distributed the seditious letters, the other four were acquitted by the Court.

Court has deferred the case against the three defendants as per section 157 of The Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan (CCPC). The section states that upon a finding of circumstantial evidence not amounting to proof beyond reasonable doubt, the case may be deferred.

Khandu Wangmo drafted three seditious letters and distributed them to frame her ex-husband, Drangpon Yeshey Dorji and his family.

She also used other people to distribute the letters to Yeshey Dorji’s sister’s office in the Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency (BNCA), to Yeshey Dorji’s residence at Changjiji and in a car belonging to Yeshey Dorji’s former brother-in-law at Babesa.

In doing so, the judgment states that Khandu Wangmo not only paid them but she promised them with job opportunities, scholarship abroad and military training in India.

Khandu Wangmo managed to get hold of two constables to distribute the seditious letters with proper planning. They got the letters but they did not distribute and they had no idea about the content.

The judgment also states that though the other two RBP personnel were in touch with Khandu Wangmo, there was nothing related to the sedition case. Therefore, the court did not find a basis to charge four of them.

However, the court has deferred the case against the three defendants; a doctor, BNCA official and one lady constable. They were the ones who distributed the seditious letters. As per the judgment, though they knew about the letter and its content, they did not report the crime. They did everything that Khandu Wangmo asked of them. 

Meanwhile, the Office of Attorney General (OAG) has appealed to High Court on various grounds. OAG, in its press release, stated that OAG, after careful consideration and analyses of the judgment, opines that since the defendant has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt on all the three counts, the sentencing should have been at least 15 to 27 years.

OAG stated, “OAG as a central prosecution and litigation institution is concerned that the meager sentencing of such heinous crimes, derogates the principle of deterrence and proportional sentencing to crimes committed against the State.”

The wide discretion exercised by the trail court with the award of 5 years sentence that could have been in the maximum of 27 years dishonors the Tsa-Wa-Sum, and disrepute the efforts of the investigation and prosecuting agencies, OAG added.

OAG in addition stated that such sentencing will establish a wrong precedent and pose a grave concern to country’s security, sovereignty and constitutional sacrosanctity of the established institutions.

However, the judgment states that she was given a concurrent term of five years as she was already convicted to 9 years for criminal conspiracy case. Her five years term will start only after completing 9 years imprisonment term for her involvement in criminal conspiracy case.

Thimphu District Court has sentenced her to 9 years, but she along with other two defendants have appealed to the High Court. If the High Court upholds the District Court’s judgment then she will have to serve 14 years in prison. However, they are yet to get a verdict from the High Court.

Khandu Wangmo was charged as per section 331 (e) of Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB). The section states, 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.

The grading of the crime is felony of the third degree (5 years to 9 years of imprisonment) as per section 332 of the same Act.

It all started with an acrimonious and bitter divorce between Khandu Wangmo and Pemagatshel Drangpon Yeshey Dorji in October 2018. They had been married for 11 turbulent months.

The reason of the divorce was said to be that the Drangpon had lent Nu 8 million to Khandu Wangmo by taking a loan via RICBL to enable her to repay RBG Brigadier Thinley Tobgay, which the Drangpon was not getting back, and there were also other issues in their marriage.

Things also got bitter as Yeshey Dorji sued Khandu Wangmo in court to get his money back- a case that he later won. The beginnings of the sedition case arose when Khandu Wangmo made an elaborate plan to frame Yeshey Dorji and his family members in a sedition case by planting forged seditious letters using accomplices, and by even coaching a witness.

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