In Bhutan, a Facebook Post Leads to Defamation Charges

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By Vishal Arora
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As a journalist in Bhutan is facing charges of criminal defamation for sharing a Facebook post, the government of the Himalayan kingdom has jumped on the case to justify new restrictions it wants to impose on the use of social media.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay says he disapproves of any “divisive debate” and expects a “landmark” judgment in the defamation lawsuit filed by a businessman against freelance journalist Namgay Zam. Tobgay’s government is working on a social media policy to determine what can and can’t be posted on Facebook, Twitter and so on.

Tobgay says he is in favor of “vibrant discussion.” In the Bhutanese context, that could mean disciplined expressions that would help preserve the aspect of Bhutan’s culture that sees public criticism of the elite as being offensive.

The issue is perhaps mainly about Bhutanese sensitivities, and not so much about favoritism or nepotism — at least one hopes so. It’s not just the government; even many Bhutanese people don’t want to publicly discuss Ap SP’s case, as the chief justice (his son-in-law) is appointed by the king, though in consultation with the National Judicial Commission.

The king is respected and trusted by almost all Bhutanese people and is credited with protecting the landlocked country’s stability and sovereignty, despite it being sandwiched between two competing Asian powers, India and China.

However, sections of Bhutanese society apparently fail to distinguish between the authority that the king has earned due to his wise and benevolent leadership and the authority that the Bhutanese elite enjoy by the virtue of their office and relationships. It benefits the elites — and not the country or the institution of monarchy — when an inquiry into their deeds is equated with pointing the finger at the royalty.

Even the country’s private media are reporting on the defamation case and the property dispute as straight, “he said-she said” news stories, while media outlets that are under partial government control are writing vague but preachy editorials on the “responsibilities” that accompany the right to freedom of speech, merely alluding to the two cases.  Click here for the full original story in The Diplomat’