The Thimphu district court’s bench five verdict not only pronounced a Nu 450,000 compensation for Dasho Benji in the defamation case filed against him, but it also caused a political earthquake by saying there is a prima facie case of sedition against the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT).
If the sedition charge is upheld and proven against DPT, then it could mean the dissolution of DPT as a political party.
The court verdict, given on Thursday to not only both the parties but also the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said, “The preliminary examination of the video clip of the 19th July meeting of the DPT shows that there is a prima facie case of sedition against the DPT.”
The video clip referred to by the Judge is the one submitted by Dasho Benji’s lawyer of a DPT meeting on 19th, July 2013 in Thimphu to prove its charge of sedition against DPT in response to DPT’s charge of defamation against Dasho Benji.
DPT had alleged that video was doctored after which the court, to examine the authenticity of the video clip, obtained the original recordings of the 19th July DPT convention from the Bhutan Broadcasting Service. The court said that the main recordings were examined thoroughly.
The verdict says that some of the supporters present during the meeting have made offensive, wicked and sacrilegious comments against the institution of the Monarchy and His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo.
The verdict says, “The institution of Monarchy reflects our sense of order and justice, embodies our rules and traditions which holds Bhutanese society together, and supplied the enduring element, the dimension of permanence in History.”
“The Monarchy is the basis of Bhutanese society as well as the very foundation of Bhutan as a Nation-State.”
It says His Majesty is the embodiment of the sovereignty and the laws of the nation.
Going on further, the verdict says that to offend or insult the sacred institution, to engage in conduct tending to bring down the institution of Monarchy and the Druk Gyalpo into disrespect, or to expose it to hatred and contempt is a serious threat not only to the very fabric of Bhutanese society but against the very foundation of Bhutan as a sovereign country.
“Such wicked comments against our King are also not only an offence to God and religion, but are crimes against the Tsa Wa Sum, and therefore punishable by law,” says the verdict.
The verdict says that the individuals who made the scurrilous, sacrilegious and treasonous speeches at the meeting have not only violated Article 2 of the Constitution, dealing with the Monarchy, but also violated the laws of Sedition and Treason as defined in the Penal Code of Bhutan.
The court says that it must take cognizance of the serious crimes committed against His Majesty and the people of Bhutan and ensure those guilty are punished.
However, the court says that both a High court decision and Supreme Court notification in an earlier case of BNB, Ugyen and others Vs Dechen Tshering says that a court in a civil case cannot convict a defendant on criminal charges even if the court knows the crime has been committed. Instead, the court must hand over the case to the relevant authorities for investigation and filing of criminal charges.
This, the court says, bars the district court from conducting further investigation and convicting those guilty of treason and sedition.
Therefore, the district court in line with legal rulings above handed over the case to the OAG.
The court ordered the Attorney General, ‘to direct and coordinate with the investigative agencies to conduct thorough investigations into the allegations of sedition and file appropriate criminal charges in the court of law so that the treacherous and the guilty may receive such condign punishment as shall appertain to justice.’
Either party has 10 days to appeal to the High Court failing which the judgment would be enforced.
A legal practitioner familiar with the case said, “The fact that the court has used the word ‘prime facie case of sedition against DPT,’ means there is a strong case and if there is no appeal to a higher court by DPT then the OAG would be bound to coordinate the investigation of the case with the Royal Bhutan Police and accordingly file charges based on the evidence, which already appears to be obvious.”
The legal practitioner said that going by international examples where political parties as a group are held accountable, responsbility would not only be on the speakers but also the organizers of the meeting and the party office bearers at the time.
DPT’s headache may only get worse in the higher courts because if it is held guilty of sedition then the Supreme Court, based on Article 15 section 11 of the Constitution, would have to dissolve DPT as a political party.
Article 15 section 11 sub-section (a) says, “A political party shall be dissolved only by declaration of the Supreme Court: If the objectives or activities of the party are in contravention of the provisions of this Constitution.”
The district court in its verdict already observed that the sedition was against Article 2 of the Constitution which deals with the Monarchy. The verdict also mentioned treason two times which is an even higher offence than sedition.
Under Bhutan Penal Code, section 331 (e) says a defendant is 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. It is graded as a third degree offence with a minimum of five years and maximum of nine years imprisonment.
The Election Act under section 146 (a) also says a political party shall stand dissolved only by declaration of the Supreme Court, if the objectives or activities of the political party are in contravention of the provisions of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
The biggest headache of all for DPT has been created by the party itself by dragging Dasho Benji to court for defamation who in turn brought up the sedition counter charge. Now that the District Court has given a verdict to investigate and file charges on sedition against the party it has kicked of an automatic legal process that will go all the way to the Supreme Court where, eventually, there is a real danger of dissolution when the district court verdict, Bhutan Penal Code, Election Act and the Constitution are read together.