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Plea for an enquiry into the actions of the Chief Justice of Bhutan

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To fellow Bhutanese,

After much thought, I have decided to make my plea for an enquiry into the actions of the Chief Justice of Bhutan public. This was never a confidential document, although I must admit that I did not intend to be the one making the plea public. But confronted by a lack of options, I am forced to share my plea.

It has been almost a month since I submitted the plea (the submission was made on 10th October 2016), and only the Prime Minister has responded so far. I understand that members of parliament have other pressing matters to attend to, but the lack of any kind of response has been incredibly disheartening. Not even one email has come back to me acknowledging my plea.

I would also like to share with you that I am not calling for an enquiry because of enmity with Chief Justice Tshering Wangchuk or out of personal vendetta as some Bhutanese accuse me of, but because of unethical behavior on his part.

In fact, I sent the Chief Justice an email on 17th August 2016 clarifying why I shared Dr.Shacha’s story. This was a day before the first hearing of my defamation case. In the email, I apologised to the Chief Justice for causing him trouble and pain, but wrote clearly that I would not apologise for sharing Dr. Shacha’s story because it was my moral and professional duty to do so. The Chief Justice has not replied to the email.

But over the last few weeks, I have been severely disappointed by his professional conduct. It is on these grounds that I decided to write the plea. If you believe that the plea merits an enquiry into the actions of the Chief Justice of Bhutan, and is not just one person’s concern, please sign this petition. I will be submitting the petition to the National Judicial Commission and to the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon, His Majesty’s Secretariat.

This is a copy of the plea as submitted to the Prime Minister, the National Council, and the National Assembly:

"To

Honourable Members of the Parliament

Thimphu

10th October 2016

Sub:  A sincere plea to our Honourable MPs to enquire into the actions of the Chief Justice of Bhutan.

Honourable Members of the Parliament,

I write this letter most respectfully, out of duty as a concerned citizen of Bhutan, an active participant in the democratic process, and because of my unwavering trust, faith, and confidence in our parliamentary democracy, and in public interest.

Section 2, Article 10 of our Constitution states that the Parliament shall ensure that the Government safeguards the interests of the nation and fulfills the aspirations of the people through public review of policies and issues, Bills and other legislations, and scrutiny of State functions.

Please, allow me to draw your attention to a public issue. You would be aware of this, as you would have followed the going-ons in the country via media- both local and international. I am referring to the defamation case that I am currently embroiled in at Bench I of the Thimphu District Court. I understand that you may feel this issue does not deserve your attention, as it appears to be personal. But it isn’t.

Firstly, I have nothing personal against the Chief Justice of Bhutan and I respect the office, which is crucial for our democratic monarchy. Secondly, Dr. Shacha Wangmo is neither my friend nor my relative. She was a perfect stranger to me before 9th August 2016. I only posted her story to my Facebook page as a human-interest story: A brilliant 26 year old medical doctor fighting hard to get justice for her family, and in earnest belief that the truth ought to be uncovered in order for justice to prevail, from her perspective. The act of sharing the story was inspired by journalistic duty towards finding the truth. I am getting to know Dr.Shacha as a friend only now because of the trying circumstance we find ourselves in - the defamation suit against the two of us.

I write this letter because I find myself in a unique situation of pre-judgment. And it is quite disconcerting for those of us having to deal with judicial processes.  

Ever since the Facebook story of Dr. Shacha’s went viral, the Chief Justice has been assassinating my credibility as a journalist in public spaces. And soon after the defamation suit was filed against me by his father-in-law, I learnt that the Chief Justice at an official gathering of judges, where the judge presiding over my case was also present, had expressed his legal opinion that Dr. Shacha and I ought to be punished for what we have done.

Moreover, I have learnt that he has openly shown three journalists a file on me relating to the Facebook post with names of people who have shared/liked/commented on the post. In short, he appears to have engaged in witch-hunting. I have come to know that he has said he will sue me in the future. He has, thus, apparently assumed the role of investigator, prosecutor and judge. This is the Chief Justice of Bhutan at whose district court I am litigating a defamation suit with his father-in-law.

Allow me to also submit to you that this is not an accusation to the person of Tshering Wangchuk. Please, note that I am accusing the Chief Justice of Bhutan for prima fascie violating his duty that is enshrined in the Constitution. He has potentially violated the Section 1, Article 21 of the Judiciary, that states:

The Judiciary shall safeguard, uphold, and administer Justice fairly and independently without fear, favour, or undue delay in accordance with the Rule of Law to inspire trust and confidence and to enhance access to Justice.

The violation is made obvious not only through the manner in which he has conducted himself in the aftermath of the defamation suit against me and Dr.Shacha, but also through several other instances wherein he has failed in his duty as a fair and impartial Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Please, permit me to elaborate beginning from the most recent incident.

On 22nd August 2016, lawyer Younten Dorji, the legal counsel to Aum Lhaden Pem Dorji and Kazi Ugyen Dorji, submitted a motion for the recusal of the Chief Justice from their case against Tobgyal Dorji and Wangchuk Dorji, concerning the estate dispute of late Dasho Ugyen Dorji, the founder of Tashi Group of Companies, on grounds of bias, prejudice, and lack of fairness.

But this motion for his recusal was not without risk. At the time of presenting it, the Chief Justice threatened the legal counsel with contempt of court and defamation action, though the move to file such a motion is absolutely within permissible bounds of the law.

This motion for recusal is a public document and can be accessed by any of us. The legal counsel had, upon the request of journalists, shared the motion. But when the media intended to broadcast and publish it, they were threatened with contempt of court and were disallowed from running the story. The legal counsel was also later issued a show cause order for having shared the motion with media.

This motion of recusal of the Chief Justice of Bhutan is something never heard of in the country. And hence, significant and historic. But is the public aware of this? Do they know that a recusal law exists? Unfortunately, no. With regard to the recusal, mainstream media have been muzzled by the Chief Justice of Bhutan. I have attached to the letter a copy of the recusal motion. I am sure our Honourable MPs will find it worth your while to read it.

(Click here for a copy of the recusal motion: http://www.namgayzam.com/recusal-motion/)

The second incident is another Facebook post. A journalist colleague of mine, in frustration, had created an anonymous Facebook account and posted about the recusal motion. The journalist’s identity was discovered as a consequence of the witch-hunt initiated by the Chief Justice. I have learnt that the Chief Justice issued a written order to the High Court to initiate contempt proceedings against the journalist, but High Court judges are informally impressing upon the said journalist to write an unconditional apology letter to the Chief Justice to put an end to the matter.

I have been told that the same journalist was already warned once before by the Chief Justice that he would one day come after him and “fix him” for being critical of the Judiciary.

The media in its highest tradition of professionalism, has been very critical of the government, political parties, and other institutions, and has questioned all cabinet ministers and MPs, except in the case of the Judiciary (under the Chief Justice) who is the guardian of our Constitution, and the first and foremost pillar of our democracy, despite there having been actions adverse to the very foundation of our democracy. This apparently untoward action of the Chief Justice is certainly harming our credibility as the GNH Kingdom.

The third incident includes another pre-judgment case as well, and involves the establishment of the Business Opportunity and Information Centre (BOIC). At a time when heated debate was going on between Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and the People’s Democratic Party, the Chief Justice is known to have commented and opined that BOIC is illegal and unconstitutional at numerous public gatherings, the most notable being at a Desuup training programme, last year. The Chief Justice had apparently expressed unwarranted confidence that if DPT filed a case against PDP-challenging the constitutional validity of BOIC, he would judge BOIC as being unconstitutional. However, DPT did not pursue this case.

The Chief Justice of Bhutan is prima fascie undermining the very institutions of Judiciary and parliamentary democracy. Shouldn’t a judge always hear a case first, and decide later? And not the other way round? Shouldn’t a judge refrain from sharing his or her opinion until at the time of the judgment, and not spark controversy that could result in a multiplicity of suits and disharmony? Is this not the prime ethical standard required of any judge?

I am not writing to you about freedoms, today. I am not imploring for help regarding my defamation suit. All I am submitting is the need for our Parliament to check the apparent misuse of power by the Chief Justice of Bhutan, without fear or favour, ill will or affection, and to fulfill one’s duty to the Tsa-Wa-Sum by nurturing a vibrant democracy that is imperative for the realization of Gross National Happiness.

I write this letter because I believe the Chief Justice has on several occasions been biased and unethical. He seems to disregard democratic values and has displayed a complete lack of judicial integrity.

The Civil and Criminal Procedure Code, 2001 (CCPC) states “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal and effective protection of the law without discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” The same provision is also enshrined in our Constitution as a fundamental right under Section 15, Article 7.

Unfortunately, it is not only I who feels wronged as evinced by my submissions earlier in this letter. Like many others, I do not feel protected by the law due to the unjustified opinions, comments, and actions of the Chief Justice of Bhutan, as I have submitted in this letter.

I do not write this letter in the hope of personal gain, but in the interests of justice and a vibrant democracy- that we may not squander our precious gift from The Golden Throne, and to remind our Honourable MPs that as the peoples’ elect, you have the sacred power and duty to set things right and demand accountability from persons appointed to important posts with the sole task to serve the needs of the Tsa-Wa-Sum.

I beseech our Honourable MPs to enquire into the facts stated above and take proper action against the Chief Justice of Bhutan. If our Parliament does not do this, then who will? To whom should our citizens turn to? In this matter, can the Parliament remain neutral and serve the Tsa-Wa-Sum at the same time?

Most respectfully,

Namgay Zam

(Independent Journalist)

Email: namgayzam@hotmail.com"

 



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