By Lobsang Wangyal
McLEOD GANJ, India, 5 June 2019
A defamation case filed last year against President of Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) Lobsang Sangay and his Cabinet had its first hearing today in Dharamshala, the seat of the exiled Tibetan administration.
Penpa Tsering, former representative of the Dalai Lama to the US, had filed the lawsuit in May 2018 with the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission. He claimed that “false charges” were levelled against him by the Cabinet of the CTA led by Sangay when they ousted him from the representative’s post in Washington DC in November 2017.
Sangay and his Cabinet had charged Penpa Tsering with 10 points, including “trust deficit” and “dereliction of duty”, to justify removing him from the post.
Tsering rejected the 10 charges soon after he left the office, but only filed the case after Sangay publicly stated twice that if Tsering didn’t accept the charges, he could take it to court.
At the hearing today Penpa Tsering was accompanied by his lawyer Namgyal Tsekey, while Sangay and the Cabinet were represented by their lawyer Lobsang Dakpa.
Business started at 10:30 am with Chief Justice Kargyu Dhondup, who was joined by Justice Commissioners Nawang Rabgyal and Karma Damdul. The Chief Justice announced at the outset that the plaintiff has nothing against the Cabinet’s decision to terminate him, as he accepts the prerogative of the Cabinet.
He also said that the court has dismissed the Cabinet’s plea to dismiss the case on the grounds that it will involve the name of the Dalai Lama. Chief Justice declared that the name of the Dalai Lama can not be associated with the case, as he has delegated power and responsibility to the elected leader. The Cabinet will have to defend what the plaintiff has charged as defamation against him.
Today was the Clarification Hearing, with the judge mostly asking the defending lawyer to clarify some of the responses he had submitted earlier after the initial questionnaire was sent in December 2018.
Most of the day’s business was completed before lunch at 12:30 pm. As soon as the afternoon session began at 2:30 pm, the defendant’s lawyer requested a time of three months to give a detailed response to the questions.
Lobsang Dakpa said that the case is very important and sensitive, and that it has Tibetan unity and stability at stake. He requested the court to consider giving more time to respond all the questions in a detailed and proper way.
Plaintiff Penpa Tsering objected to that request, saying so much time had already been given since the case was filed in May 2018.
In his argument, Dakpa spoke on the issue of Penpa Tsering’s termination and implied that the Dalai Lama had a role in dismissing him. He quoted the minister Karma Gelek who said that the ousting was done in the same way the appointment was done. It is believed Penpa Tsering was appointed at the suggestion of the Dalai Lama.
To this, plaintiff’s lawyer Namgyal Tsekey drew the judges attention to their decision that the Dalai Lama’s name should not be associated with the case. She requested the judge to apply Article 84, contempt of court, against the defending lawyer, but he did not respond to that.
The post-lunch questioning of the defendant lawyer continued even after he had requested three month’s time to answer, but the lawyer did not respond to them fully, repeating that he needed more time. Judge Kargyu Dhondup said that a decision will be taken whether to accept the responses as final. The judge declared that the morning session’s responses would be taken as final.
The judge then pronounced the end of the day’s session, saying that the decision of whether to approve three month’s time to respond would be taken later, and that the date for next hearing also would be announced later.