RBP to prosecute Penjore for defamation after OAG returns case to RBP

Thimphu District Court accepted the case today

The entire country had assumed that the ‘Penjore Penjore’ sedition and defamation case against Penjore had come to an end on 18th June 2021, after the OAG’s sedition case against Penjore was dismissed by the Thimphu District court.

This was further confirmed when the OAG said it would not appeal this ruling to respect the independence of the judiciary.

However, in a major twist, the RBP will be charge sheeting the case to the Thimphu District Court again. The RBP had initially informed Penjore that the charge sheet would be filed on Monday 8th November   but then changed the date to Tuesday 9th November.

A RBP official said that the court had dismissed the sedition case against Penjore, and so the OAG reviewed and returned the investigation file to the RBP saying that the prosecution for defamation is under the purview of the RBP.

The RBP official said that the OAG instructed the RBP to file the defamation case.

The official said that the RBP investigation report had found defamation in its investigation and had sent the case to the OAG, but in the court the OAG instead charged Penjore with sedition which got dismissed.

An OAG official confirmed that the OAG had returned the case to the RBP, but he declined to comment beyond that.

On the legal point, since the OAG is the defamation complainant, the RBP cannot charge sheet the case of the OAG if the OAG withdraws the case.

However, the fact that the RBP is charge sheeting the case means that the OAG still wants to get Penjore prosecuted for defamation.

The RBP official said that the defamation case this time pertains only to the 4th                 May Facebook post of Penjore against the OAG and not other parties like BNB since the BNB has not filed any complaint.

Penjore said the RBP had called him informing him about the charge sheet. He said the RBP told him that the OAG had told the RBP to conduct a fresh investigation for defamation, but the police decided to use the older investigation report.

Penjore said he heard from the police that the OAG had asked the RBP to prosecute him for defamation.

Penjore said he is surprised to learn that a chapter which had been closed by the court verdict is being opened up again under the instruction of the OAG. He asked how such directions can be given.

Penjore said that if the court accepts the case he is ready to face the court and prove how what he said is not defamation.

Bench 1 of the Thimphu District Court dismissed the OAG’s sedition case against Penjore on 18th June 2021 on four grounds.

The first is that during the investigation and when the remand order for Penjore had been sought, the case was about defamation but now it had turned into sedition.

The second point was while there was no allegation or complaint by the judiciary, the RBP and OAG charged Penjore saying that the judiciary is also a victim in this case.   

The third ground is that the Office of the Attorney General and the State cannot be treated at the equivalent level.

The fourth ground is that if the court proceedings are initiated in this case then it will set a bad precedent for the due process of law.

The Penjore case raised several important issues that went beyond the case itself.

The RBP without an arrest warrant detained Penjore on 6th May 2021 even before producing him to court. Though defamation, if proven, is a petty misdemeanor which is an offence for which he can pay Thrim-thue and avoid any jail time, Penjore was detained for 16-days even before his guilt was established.

In the original case, the OAG was both the complainant and the prosecutor and it took action even though no case was sent to it or without any permission from the government raising questions about the powers of the OAG.

An issue was the impact the case could have on the freedom of speech generally and also the freedom of media if a person making critical comments online against public authorities can be prosecuted in this manner.

This case will now bring up another important legal question. The legal question is if the RBP can prosecute a case against the same person which had already been dismissed by the Thimphu District Court.

The ACC had written to the Prime Minister earlier this year on the case after Penjore had written to the ACC about his case. The ACC Commission had decided to write to the PM after it found some substance in Penjore’s letter.

The National Assembly Human Rights and Foreign Relations committee is doing a review of the Penjore case and they have already had meetings with the RBP.

In an update, Bench 1 of the Thimphu District Court accepted the case and assigned it to the  Bench 2 which is the criminal Bench. The charges will be given to Penjore in the next 10 days. A RBP lawyer is prosecuting the case.

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