First Criminal Online Libel Verdict in Bhutan

Kuensel Online, the electronic version of Bhutan's English-language national newspaper, reported last week that a man who posted comments on its discussion forums was convicted of criminal libel:

On July 16 the Paro district court sentenced an employee of the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) to one year in prison, with an option to pay thrimthue, in the first ever online defamation case in Bhutan. The thrimthue of Nu. 36,000, in lieu of one year imprisonment, has to be paid within 10 days.

Defendant Yeshey Lotay was ordered to pay compensatory damages of Nu. 36,000 each to a couple, both forest rangers, within one month of the judgment. Pema Dorji and Ugyen, both civil servants in Paro dzongkhag, had filed the case against Yeshey Lotay for defamation in a kuenselonline discussion forum in August, 2006.

According to Kuensel Online, the defendant "pleaded guilty" in his opening statement and admitted that he acted with malice and had no proof to substantiate his allegations of bribery, corruption, and misuse of power.

Although it doesn't appear that Kuensel Online or the defendant's ISP were implicated in the case, the article quotes the court as stating that regulatory authorities and Internet Service Providers share equal responsibility to regulate Internet related crime:

"The websites that solicits online discussion forums must also be equally responsible to protect from the vices of any internet related crimes and the principle of vicarious liability impugn that it is just not good enough to say that the webmaster or editors are not responsible of the content with a disclaimer clause," said the Paro drangpon.


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