Defamation Laws In Bhutan

Bhutanese law allows for both civil and criminal defamation.  Slander and libel are defined under Section 317 of the Bhutan penal code, which states:

“A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of defamation, if the defendant intentionally causes damage to the reputation of another person or a legal person by communicating false or distorted information about that person’s action, motive, character or reputation.”

The statutes go on to aver that “[a] defendant shall be guilty of the offence of libel, if the defendant defames another person through the means of writing, drawing or photographing.”

Those found guilty of defamation in Bhutan can be sentenced to imprisonment for no more than three years; in addition, they may be fined.

Public Officials Have LESS Protection Under Bhutanese Defamation Law

Two elements must be established by the prosecution before a conviction can occur:

1)    If the complainant is a public figure, the prosecutor must prove that the person or persons responsible for the defamation (the accused) acted with actual malice.

2)    The prosecutor must further prove that the accused knew the statement in question was false when they made it.

The jurisprudence adopted by the Bhutanese court “is clear that public officials enjoy lesser protection of their reputation since they are routinely exposed to public opinion because of their public profile.”

Allowable Defamation Defenses In Bhutan

  • A bona fide expression made in the public interest;
  • A criticism of a literary work or product;
  • An appeal through lawful means or in good faith for redressing a grievance;
  • A bona fide complaint by the defendant against one’s own superior officer or about an employee serving under the officer;
  • A bona fide complaint by or to an agency or authority of Bhutan to redress a grievance;
  • A formal report of a supervisor or superior officer concerning the work or performance of an employee; or
  • Instances where the Court, based on relevant facts and circumstances, considers the statement made to be reasonable.

Online Defamation Standards In Bhutan: ISPs Are Just As Responsible As The Person Making The Statement

In its first criminal online libel verdict, the Paro district court sentenced an employee of the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) to one year in prison, with an option to pay a fine, in lieu of one year imprisonment.

Although Kuensal Online, and ISP, does not appear to have been implicated in the case, the court nevertheless declared that Internet Service Providers or websites soliciting online discussion forums must also be equally responsible, and it is not enough to say that the webmaster or editors are not responsible of the content with a disclaimer clause appearing on the website.