On the 4th of May Penjore Penjore, a retired government official, a private citizen whose hotel business ran into loss after a prolonged court case with the bank which loaned the money posted on his Facebook asking the Attorney General to resign. This is not his first post attacking people in position and institutions. He has been constantly posting on Facebook for some time directed at people who he points out as those who are responsible for the mis-judgment and malicious proceeding in which his hotel got frozen out of business. His hotel property remained frozen as the case dragged on in the court. But his post on the May 4th, 2021, he made following a news on Bhutan Broadcasting Service about a “court sentencing of 12 former employees of Bhutan National Bank to a year in prison for forgery” landed him into police detention for 15 days resulting OAG filing a sedition to the court against
As the sedition got dismissed by the court, the police filed defamation case on behalf of the OAG.
On his Facebook post, he was alleging through the post that the bank’s top executives are also responsible in the forgery case in which 12 former employees were sentenced. His post called the top executives of the bank and the Attorney General to resign. He was also alleging AG possibly must have colluded with the bank’s top executives questioning the Office of the Attorney General which dropped to prosecute the executives in relation to the forgery case which was forwarded by Royal Audit Authority (RAA). He was also asking the media to question OAG calling on Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the possibility to clear the doubt of collusion between AG and the top executives of the bank. This is because the OAG dropped the executives from the charges of official misconduct and failure to report the crime where 12 employees were found to have forged their documents to get jobs from which they were relieved after the RAA’s report. His post although with only 9 likes has 24 shares, which is a huge number in context of the platform in Bhutanese population. Because of this post, he was upon the OAG’s complaint, was detained by police and remained under custody for 16 days after which the police on behalf of OAG filed the defamation case with the district court, when sedition case was dismissed by the court. This came out to be the case to determine space for institutions likes OAG’s legal power and authority, and an individual’s freedom of speech.
As the case came to light and general public started doubting OAG of exercising illegal power of detaining a private individual without an arrest warrant, OAG put up a press release explaining the case which again invoked public discourse, most questioning the indent of the press release.
A senior journalist Tashi Dema of Kuensel shared the press release and asked legal personals to explain the press release, indicating that the press release is trying to do the damage control. A Facebook page, Druk Justice has also shared press release with a post saying “OAG issues a press release on defamation and detention of private individual and authority of OAG probably in response to much discussed ongoing penjore case.
However, the Penjore was acquitted from the defamation case by the district court in May 2022. As per the judgement, Penjore’s post on May 4, 2021, was not false and it did not constitute any defamatory statements. Meanwhile, his investment in the hotel property remains closed without business as the case between him and the bank remain. Recently Penjore has appealed to the supreme court for compensation from bank for causing loss through closure of his business and claiming Nu. 229M in losses.
|Prime actors:Penjore Penjore|
Office of Attorney General (OAG)
|Transparency: Penjore Penjore propagates doubt and suspicion to the institutions and those in power while OAG was justifying their illegal action.|
Intent: The behavior suggests vindictive and aspersive.
|Penjore has been posting on his Face book targeting especially a former CEO of Bhutan National Bank, its lawyer, a district judge, and AG for obstructing business of his hotel while case was in court. He alleged that the judgement passed by the lowers court was also not fair. OAG through it press release was justifying their action by interpreting legal provisions in their own favour. |
Harm: The content propagates suspicion and distrust in institutions and people in power on the one hand while OAG was projects apt, just and reliable institution.
Synthetic: The content was stretched with inaccurate details.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation and fake news narrative.
|Target audience:General Bhutanese population|
|Human Rights:It offered a general discourse on individual rights and freedom invoking discourse on fundamental rights and freedom of speech.|
ABCDE Framework Analysis:
Actor: Mr. Penjore is the main propagator of the disinformation dynamics while he is not necessarily the main actor behind the disinformation in this case. Those mentioned by Penjore in his Facebook posts who does not respond to his posts play a major role in propagating disinformation through silence. OAG other the other hand up on responding to Penjor’s Facebook post on May 4 2022 propagated its justification of arrest and filing of charges against Penjore through press release inaccurately stretching provisions of law to tis favour.
Behaviour: Penjore was outspoken and was transparent in his behaviour naming every individual and institutions he alleged of unfair and unjust roles in his case. Penjore projected himself as the victim of the case he was losing in which his posts are vindictive in nature although with ground to his frustration and allegations. He named and accused several officials and institutions openly and constantly for a long time to which none responded.
Meanwhile, OAG which is responsible for his illegal detention was clearly disinforming the general public through stretching legal provisions into their favour suggesting aspersive intend to punish Penjore by circumventing legal provisions in their favour but at least the court finally didn’t allow.
Content: Penjors posts have a content was developed to garner public sympathy and support to his problem of a court battle with the bank which he was losing. While the OAG’s press release was a designed to ensure credibility in their actions which seeks circumventing legal provisions to punish Penjore for the freedom of speech he exercised while other institutions like the bank, CEO and the judge all remained silent even when Penjore accused them of unjust and unfair treatment to the case by freezing his property
Degree: Penjore has been posting on his Facebook accusing the bank and other officials of criminal act through unjust and unfair proceedings in his case with a bank while his hotel remined frozen since 2016. He had been constantly posting on his Facebook. With every update on his case followed by accusation of officials for unfair and unjust proceeding to which no individual or institution responded in any form until OAG responded on his May 4, 2021 post by arresting Penjore and putting him into police custody for 16 days and later filing sedition charges which was finally tried for defamation.
Effect: The case which ended with first dismissal of sedition charges and then although admitting the defamation case by the court, the case ended with the judgement acquitting Penjore of defamation charges. While the actions of OAG and police arresting Penjore without arrest warrant instilled suspicion, doubt and distrust among the public into state institutions. The dismissal of the sedition case by the court and the acquittal of Penjore from defamation charges in the judgement restored some faith in the government system ensuring check and balance. However, the actions of the OAG filing sedition charges and defamation charges against a private citizen on behalf of individual (Attorney General) using state resources have had various implications as stated by The Bhutanese newspaper.
Diagnosis: The Case has been identified as a case of Disinformation. This because there is a case of reversal or removal of information by all the actors, especially the OAG and the other individuals accused by penjore penjore in his Facebook posts for deliberately remaining silent and OAG has clearly used its power and authority to circumvent the legal provisions to punish Penjore for extensive use of his freedom of speech.
Conclusion: As freedom of speech is often questioned in many countries. Bhutan also constantly appeared among the list. This case presented the general situation of censorship and freedom of speech in context to human rights. Penjore has in a way used his freedom of speech by updating his court case and related issues by informing his followers on Facebook on possible lapses and corruptions in the system as he propagated the issues of freezing his hotel while case is on trial violating his rights to his property.
At the same time, disinformation dynamics in silence can also be observed in this case. While Penjore explicitly named several people in power and institutions, including local administrators, district judge, and the Attorney General in his posts accusing potential collusion and injustices. None of those responded to counter but remained silent which obstructs and removes information from the public domain through silence. Except the AG used the power of his institution to try Penjore by stretching legal provisions.
The OAG’s attempt to teach a lesson for voicing out laud against government institutions and people in power turned out badly as the sedition charges it hoped to register got dismissed and defamation case lost. This was well received among the public noted by media as it indicated there is certain level of check and balance in the system.