On 15th August 2014, the Deputy Minister Dasho Paljor J. Dorji (popularly known as Dasho Benji) while visiting the Facebook page “Bhutanese Forum”, chanced upon a comment posted by someone called Guy Harris Dorji which read, “So true what the DPT says about this government. We rather not have government because there is no impact of haven them (having them) except for negative impacts due to their greed. Aren’t we feeding them like pigs? The money which can be used to build bridges and roads are all eaten by the politicians. I am sure our country can handle quite well without a government. If re-election is too expensive, we can run the government under emergency rule.”
In response to that comment, Dasho Benji lightheartedly commented that, “After robbing the country blind, the DPT has the gumption to raise its voice. Hahaha! ”
That was it and he had promptly forgotten all about it. Incidentally, he had not even seen or read the DPT’s post in response to his comment. Thus, he was naturally shocked when the media, a few weeks later, contacted him for his response to the libel suit filed against him by DPT for the comment he had posted online.
Facebook, like other social media services, is simply a platform for exchange of personal, often contradictory, views with fellow users. Dasho Benji’s comment was just one such passing exchange, which was meant to be a humorous counter to what he thought was a baseless comment on our government by another person. Hence Dasho Benji, like most other users of social media, was surprised to learn that DPT had decided to file a defamatory suit against him for making an innocent and informal comment on Facebook.
Dasho Paljor J Dorji had a distinguished career with the Royal Government of Bhutan, serving three kings in the capacity of Magistrate of Paro District 1969-1972, High Court Judge 1972-1974, acting Chief Justice of Bhutan 1974-1985, Chief Justice of Bhutan 1985-1987, Deputy Minister for Social Services 1988-1991, Ambassador to the United Nations and European capitals 1991-1994, Deputy Minister to the National Environment Commission 1994-1997. As a loyal and dutiful servant to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Dasho Benji spearheaded a number of environment conservation efforts and initiated the Bhutan Trust Fund. His service has earned him a Global 500 Laureate from UNEP in 1988 and an Officer Order of The Golden Ark Netherlands presented by the late Prince Bernhard in 1994. Today he serves as a Special Advisor to the National Environment Commission under a Royal Command from His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
Dasho Benji is therefore a senior citizen of distinguished accomplishments and is a well-regarded figure in Bhutan. As part of his social services, he hosts a talk show on Radio Valley 99.9 FM every Monday, titled “Good Evening Dasho Benji” and has visited schools and colleges across the country to campaign against drug abuse. He has never made any political statements or attacked any political party in his popular talk show or while interacting with the thousands of students he meets. As a matter of fact, Dasho Benji has no affiliation to any political party, his total loyalty being to his King and country.
Dasho Benji, therefore, cannot understand why DPT has blown his casual comment on Facebook out of context, purposely creating a serious controversy.
However, he is left with no option but to submit to the Royal Court of Law and defend his statement even though it was made casually and on a Facebook page that is full of wild accusations. More importantly, Dasho Benji feels that he must appeal to our courts to prevent the DPT from deliberately infringing on his fundamental right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression, granted to all Bhutanese by the Sacred Constitution.
The DPT’s court petition posted online verbatim states that, “If DPT is found guilty of robbing the country, it cannot and should not continue representing our people in the Parliament and should be dissolved…” Dasho Benji cannot see why the entire DPT must resign en bloc in response to his innocuous comment. However he sees a clear pattern: The DPT does not hesitate to hold our very nation at ransom by threatening to resign whenever they do not get their way. So far he has counted at least 4 threats by DPT to resign en masse or to dissolve the party. Such threats of democratic desertions are treasonous to the very spirit of our democracy of which DPT is integral part.
Bhutan Law Services will represent and defend Dasho Benji before the Honourable Courts. They will prove that DPT is infringing on Dasho Benji’s fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression. If instructed, they will defend Dasho Benji’s comment even though it was made casually and on a Facebook page that is host to many worse comments. To do so, they will draw the Honourable Courts’ attention to events that transpired during and immediately after the DPT’s term in government, and comment on their impact on our King, country and people.
DPT has called Dasho Benji’s comment “inflammatory, partisan and divisive” and accuse him of “undermining the unity, harmony, peace and prosperity of our nation.” These are very serious charges and the burden of proving each now befalls on DPT.
By deliberately blowing a causal comment on Facebook out of context, it is DPT who is actually “inflammatory, partisan and divisive”.
By threatening to resign en bloc, it is DPT who is actually “undermining the unity, harmony, peace and prosperity of our nation.”
On his part, Dasho Benji feels that the matter should not have been taken to court. He did not and does not intend to destroy any person or any political party. All he did was make an innocent comment, using a common English idiom, to take part in a Facebook discussion that had already gone out of hand. For his casual remark, the DPT has taken Dasho Benji to court, to the very institution that he presided over as the Chief Justice of Bhutan for a good 13 years.
The DPT has publicly humiliated Dasho Benji. They have challenged his integrity and honour. And they have portrayed him as a divisive person, even though they know fully well that he has rendered decades of faithful and continuous service to the Tsa-Wa-Sum.
Dasho Benji is left with no option. He will humbly submit to the Royal Courts of Law, and follow due process. However, he refuses to submit to the heavy-handedness of DPT, or to have his fundamental right of freedom of opinion and expression taken away by the very people who should be fighting to protect the fundamental rights of all Bhutanese.
>> This is the press release dated 26th September 2014 from Bhutan Law Services representing Dasho Benji.