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Judges summon, threaten editor with legal action over critical article

(Globe International/IFEX) - A newspaper editor in Huvsgul aimag (province) is being threatened with a lawsuit by two judges over a critical article that allegedly tarnished the court's image.

Huvsgul general judge Mr. Khosbayar and inter-soum (village) judge Ms. M. Narmandakh summoned to court Ms. Yu. Gereltuya, editor-in-chief of the "Erkh Chuluu" (Freedom) newspaper, for publishing the article entitled "Is there any democracy in the aimag's court?" which appeared in the 20 March 2007 issue of the newspaper.

Mr. J. Chimedtseren, a correspondent with the newspaper, wrote the article drawing on his personal experience with the bureaucratic manners of judge Ms. N. Sarangun.

In the article, the writer said he feared that his belongings would be stolen in the court building as the court was "littered with robbers". It is a fact that people of all walks of life, including robbers, usually hang around the court building. It was the phrase about the court being "littered with robbers" that enraged the judges.

The judges told Gereltuya that they would sue her newspaper for calling their court staff robbers, and that Chimedtseren wrote the article out of revenge. The judges also demanded that Gereltuya's newspaper publish without any charge an article written by the court in its defense.

Globe sent a notification letter to Mr. Khosbayar, stating that he had transgressed the relevant laws, such as Criminal Law and Article 3.1 of the law on media freedom, which states that "the state shall not censor public information content". Globe's arguments are as follows:

- According to statistics from the Huvsgul aimag court, out of 190 criminal cases settled by the court in 2006, 154 were robbery cases. Therefore, when the "Erkh Chuluu" journalist mentioned in his article that the court was "littered with robbers", he was implying that the court was full of alleged robbers visiting the court to get their cases settled.

- The court is entitled to summon the individuals in question solely with the purpose of settling disputes falling under its jurisdiction. However, at the time of summoning, there was no criminal proceeding launched against the journalist. So, in our view, the judges' summoning of the journalist to their office constitutes both an abuse of their position and an attempt to censor the media.

- Such summons of journalists by judges will make other journalists less inclined to write critical articles about the court, in fear of being summoned themselves.

Huvsgul aimag is situated 671 kilometres from Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. Its population is 104,000. "Erkh Chuluu" is a bi-monthly newspaper with a circulation of 1,000 per month.

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