Penjore

The Penjore verdict and its implications

Penjore is happy and satisfied with the judgment but he still questions the accountability

Penjore, after a year of trial against the Office of Attorney General (OAG) and Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) over a post he has made on Facebook, was acquitted by the Thimphu District Court on 29 May. 

Penjore was accused of defaming the OAG through a Facebook post. The post was made on 4 May 2021 while he got arrested on 6 May.

As per the judgment, whatever post that Penjore has made on 4 May 2021 was not  false information and that the post was made in the interest of the public. The judgment further states that Penjore had exercised his freedom of speech.

Therefore, Penjore was acquitted as per Section 318 (a, e and g) of the Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB) 2004.

Though Penjore had requested the court for  compensation during the trail for keeping him under detention illegally for 16 days, the court however, denied the compensation as per Section 186 of the PCB 2004.

The section states that the court may order an accused to be remanded to police or  judicial custody, if there exists reasonable cause that he or she has perpetrated a crime, within the limits prescribed by this code.

Meanwhile, Penjore said that he respects the judgment and the court was fair enough which is why he is more than happy and satisfied.

He said, “Though my request on compensation was denied by the court, I am okay with it because my main bone of contention was on the accountability for this crime.”

He said that having abused their power or authority is what he meant by ‘national shame’ in his post that they bought to this country.

He further said that as per the investigation report which was initially submitted to OAG by the police, police charged all the seven executive members of the BNBL for official misconduct and failure to report the crime.

However, OAG dropped the charges against the seven executive members while the 12 support staff were prosecuted and were made to compulsorily retire.

“They are proven wrong, and yet no actions were taken against those people. If this is not taken into account then the people, and officers might take advantage of the law, and these kinds of crime might keep happening,” he added.

Police, as of today, did not appeal to the higher court.

Impact

A practicing lawyer and legal expert said that the judgment is a good one and what was expected from the case.

However, the legal expert said the Penjore should have been compensated for the 16-day imprisonment as the court verdict proves that there was no legitimate case against Penjore. The legal expert said there should also be compensation for loss of freedom.

He said the entire case from the start also impacted the capacity of Penjore to earn when he was already under heavy debt. He asked, “Who will compensate him for that?”

He said in the Dasho Benji vs DPT defamation case DPT had to compensate Dasho Benji

He said while the case of Penjore is well known, there are many other cases where people are locked up like this and it is high time the Parliament now step in to frame laws on such arrests.

The lawyer said the 2007 Judgment in the OAG vs Sangay Dorji had pulled up the OAG for pursuing a defamation and sedition case against Sangay Dorji on behalf of two ministers and a Director at the cost of the public purse, and also because the three are public figures who can be criticized.

However, he said the OAG and RBP seem not to have learnt the lesson from that verdict and pursued a similar case with a similar result.

He said the Parliament should now hold the OAG and RBP accountable for the case.

The National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee briefly moved to take up Penjore’s case, but it was given a quite burial by the committee members from the ruling and opposition party after the RBP decided to sue Penjore for defamation.

The Prime Minister had already stated that he would not hold the OAG accountable though it is the legal arm of the government and reports to him.

The lawyer says the case like its 2007 precedent strengthens the freedom of speech in the country.

Background

Penjore was initially prosecuted for defamation, however, the OAG later charged him for sedition which the district court dismissed on 18 June 2021 on four grounds. During the trail Penjore raised questions on human rights and freedom of speech and expression.

The case was closed but Penjore was again charge sheeted to court for defamation by police in November 2021 after OAG reviewed and returned the investigation file to the RBP, stating that the defamation charge is under the purview of the police.

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