Lyonchhen says Bhutan unfairly shown as an intolerant country due to social media defamation case

Responding to the queries on the government’s view on the increasing anonymous social media users in the country and its implications, Lyonchhen said that social media users should learn to disregard the comments from the anonymous accounts that can demean an individual or a political party.

“I think anonymous users are unnecessary for a country like ours because we do not have draconian laws that totally deny freedom of speech. I don’t know anyone being called for expressing out their views except for one or two cases in the recent times by private individuals and not the government,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen also asked individuals to refrain from misusing social media through sedition, treason, and defamation. “Just because it is Facebook, you cannot defame a person. We have to respect and abide by our laws for the good of all the people. The person who has been defamed has the right to drag the defamer to court and I guess that was how it has played out in the recent cases.”

Foreign Minister Damcho Dorji pointed out that the constitution provides fundamental rights on freedom of expressions, which will include freedom of press. He said freedom of expressions and freedom of press does not mean absolute freedom because right to privacy is also one of the fundamental rights of an individual.

“Such freedoms must be exercised in such a way that they do not violate and encroach upon each other. When you rely on anonymous source, you’ll be held liable to prove what you have published if you are taken to court.”

Lyonchhen iterated that we should not be misled into thinking that sharing a post through the share button and sharing the whole content of an event on a personal wall as the one and the same thing referring to the Ap SP Vs Dr Shacha and Namgay Zam case.

Giving an example of the recent defamation suits, Lyonchhen said that although the cases have been withdrawn, it would have been wholesome to know the ruling so that the law can clarify to everyone the legitimacy of such acts.

Lyonchhen mentioned that the Namgay Zam and Dr Shacha Vs Ap S.P defamation case is an example of the kind of impact social media can have in and around the world and how information can be distorted without a substantial comprehension of the matter.

“Although the government had nothing to do with the case, the picture, Bhutan has been shown as an intolerant society for a private citizen going after a journalist for sharing a post which was very unfortunate because it wasn’t “just sharing” a post if we go by the meaning of ‘share’ on Facebook. An entire post was uploaded on the journalist’s page,” said the PM.

He said that some journalists inside and outside Bhutan portrayed the case if it was the government who was taking her to the court and not the private individual, and that the government was undermining her freedom of speech, which the PM emphasized is both sad and wrong.

He also said the government did nothing except comment that  the rule of law should take care of the case and that it can be called a ‘landmark case’ because it questioned the social media laws in the country and triggered many debates.

The PM said at the moment the government does not see any need for action against the anonymous users, stating that current laws are sufficient to deal with any issues that arises from their posts.  If in case the laws are not sufficient to deal with such cases, he said the government will deliberate on it.

Sonam Tshering, a lawyer in Bhutan said that with the availability of numerous forms of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, Watsapp  or YouTube, it is even easier to make defamatory statements and that these social media tools often reaches thousands or millions of users instantly.

“By law, whether such statements are made through an update or upload of Facebook status or Twitter or upload on YouTube, WeChat, Watsapp or other platforms, would  all equally constitute defamation under the law of defamation like any other medium. Therefore, people should be mindful of what they post or publish on their social networks or else face the consequences under the relevant laws of the country,” said Sonam Tshering.

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