A lo­cal jour­nal­ist faces defama­tion charge for Face­book post

Business Bhutan - - Nation - Chen­cho Dema from Thim­phu

The first hear­ing of the case be­tween a jour­nal­ist from Kuensel based in Tsir­ang, Nir­mala Pokhrel, and a woman who was al­leged to be bat­ter­ing and mis­treat­ing her six-year-old step­daugh­ter be­gan at the Tsir­ang Dzongkhag Court Thurs­day.

Nir­mala Pokhrel was charged for the of­fence of li­bel by the woman for mak­ing a post on Face­book that the lat­ter bat­tered and mis­treated her step­daugh­ter.

In re­sponse to the al­leged li­bel charge against her by the Tsir­ang po­lice on Au­gust 17, Nir­mala Pokhrel sub­mit­ted three pages’ jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to the Tsir­ang Dzongkhag Court dur­ing the first hear­ing.

In her let­ter sub­mit­ted to the court, she con­fessed that on June 17, she posted a Face­book sta­tus stat­ing that a woman was ill­treat­ing her step­daugh­ter be­low Dam­phu town. How­ever, their iden­ti­ties were not re­vealed and they do not know each other. The in­for­ma­tion were pro­vided to her by some re­li­able sources known to them who came to her place on June 17, ask­ing if she can do a story about child abuse.

She stated in the let­ter that she had heard about the in­ci­dent on Satur­day, which is an off day for Kuensel, so she put the sta­tus on Face­book, ex­pect­ing rel­e­vant or­ga­ni­za­tions man­dated to pro­tect chil­dren un­der dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion to know about it and also peo­ple who know about such is­sue to guide her how to go about it while fil­ing the news ar­ti­cle.

“I sub­mit that I have nei­ther en­mity with the woman nor have self­in­ter­est in post­ing the sta­tus. It was, in fact, the suf­fer­ing of the child nar­rated to me by those peo­ple who asked me to do the story that prompted me to write the sta­tus,” states the three-page let­ter sub­mit­ted to the court.

The let­ter also states, “While I have writ­ten that sta­tus con­sid­er­ing it my re­spon­si­bil­ity as a cit­i­zen to act in the best in­ter­est of the child who is ill-treated and abused, as man­dated by Ar­ti­cle 8, sec­tion 5 of the Con­sti­tu­tion. I am also the bureau cor­re­spon­dent for Tsir­ang, Sarpang and Da­gana for Kuensel, a daily news­pa­per, and as man­dated by Sec­tion 27 of the Child Care and Pro­tec­tion Act of Bhutan 2011, which spec­i­fies the role of me­dia as an im­por­tant one to pre­vent of­fences against child.”

Nir­mala Pokhrel stated that when she posted her Face­book sta­tus, she in­tended to do a story on the case on the fol­low­ing day (June 18) for June 19’s Kuensel is­sue, but on the evening of June 17, Tsir­ang po­lice’s of­fi­cer-in-com­mand (OC) ma­jor Dorji Khandu and Re­spect, Ed­u­cate, Nur­ture, Em­power Women’s (RENEW) fo­cal per­son in Tsir­ang, Dam­choe, who is also the gewog ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cer of Goser­ling gewog, had gone to the woman’s (step­mother) place to in­ves­ti­gate the case.

“And when they re­vealed that I had in­formed them about the is­sue, the woman was in­fu­ri­ated. The woman had called me over the phone and charged me, thereby, drag­ging me into the is­sue. There­fore, I could not do the story,” she stated.

On June 19, the Of­fi­cer-in-charge (OC) had called the jour­nal­ist to his of­fice, where the woman, her rel­a­tives and the child in­volved were also called.

“The woman charged me and said that she was do­ing a fa­vor to the child by keep­ing the child with her when her mother is an al­co­holic and the fa­ther, who is her hus­band, is away at work. She asked me to take the child with me and that she would not look af­ter the child there­after. To my sur­prise, the po­lice OC, in­stead of pro­vid­ing coun­sel­ing to the woman to look af­ter the child in a proper man­ner, said I de­famed the woman by post­ing it on my Face­book. I never in­tended to de­fame the woman and did not in­clude her name and proper lo­ca­tion in my Face­book sta­tus. I also never passed any judg­ment in my sta­tus to be deemed defam­a­tory,” the let­ter stated.

She sub­mit­ted be­fore the court that li­bel has to be proven by the per­son who claims to have been de­famed and how can Tsir­ang po­lice prove that she has de­famed the woman when her Face­book sta­tus does not re­veal the iden­tity of the woman and ex­act lo­ca­tion where she lives?

Nir­mala Pokhrel also men­tioned in her let­ter that her Face­book sta­tus does not de­fame the woman, as cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence also re­veal that what she wrote was true. On June 20, the po­lice OC called the jour­nal­ist say­ing Tsir­ang Dzongdag, Ngawang Pem, vis­ited the child in the school and that the child had told her class teacher and Dzongdag that her step­mother bat­tered her.

When the jour­nal­ist went, Dzongdag, po­lice OC and the teach­ers gath­ered in-front of the woman’s res­i­dence where Dzongdag, in con­sul­ta­tion with the of­fi­cials from Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Women and Chil­dren (NCWC) and RENEW, res­cued the child as she said that her step­mother beat her and caused the blue marks on her face and hands. The child was kept with the NCWC fo­cal-per­son un­til she fin­ished her exam. The jour­nal­ist had also met the class teacher, where she con­fided that the child told her she was beaten by the step­mother.

The Tsir­ang Dzongdag in a telephone in­ter­view said: “In a ca­pac­ity as a Dzongdag, what need to be done, we did and we also vis­ited the child.” How­ever, since the case is in the court, she said she does not want to com­ment on the is­sue.

Nir­mala Pokhrel also men­tioned in her sub­mis­sion to the court that Tsir­ang po­lice’s li­bel suit against her un­der­mines the fun­da­men­tal rights of free speech, fun­da­men­tal du­ties of every Bhutanese cit­i­zen to take nec­es­sary steps to pre­vent abuse of chil­dren and also rights of peo­ple to know the truth and a re­porter’s duty to tell the story.

Ar­ti­cle 7 of the Con­sti­tu­tion of Bhutan guar­an­tees every Bhutanese has the right to free speech, opin­ion and ex­pres­sion and also right to in­for­ma­tion. She stated that Tsir­ang po­lice, by fil­ing this li­bel suit, had not only vi­o­lated her rights to free speech and ex­pres­sion but also un­der­mined the right of Bhutanese ci­ti­zens to the right to in­for­ma­tion, as she could not ful­fill her duty as a re­porter to in­form the peo­ple, since they re­vealed her name to the woman the mo­ment they reached the woman’s house on the evening of June 17.

She men­tioned in her sub­mis­sion that she would take sole re­spon­si­bil­ity if po­lice and other of­fi­cials in­volved con­ducted the child abuse in­ves­ti­ga­tion dis­creetly and found out that it was not true but in this case be­fore even a proper in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­ducted, they re­vealed her name and was dragged into the is­sue.

Nir­mala Pokhrel feels that Tsir­ang po­lice has wronged her by not in­ves­ti­gat­ing the de­tails and mer­its of the case, thus not look­ing at the im­por­tance of the case.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Bhutan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.