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Journalist, newspaper face legal action for reporting on alleged embezzlement case

(Globe International/IFEX) - Journalist Kh. Namuun-Uyanga, of the "Ogloonii Sonin" (Morning News) daily, has been threatened and urged to stop reporting on an alleged embezzlement by Lieutenant Colonel M. Bayarmagnai, deputy chief of the Patrol and Special Defense Department. The threat was made in a phone call by Bayarmagnai's lawyer to the journalist on 27 April 2010.

The journalist heads the paper's Investigative Department. She published an article in the paper's 11 September 2008 edition, issue #175, entitled, "Police Colonel Embezzles MNT 20 million". The article was based on information provided by Lieutenant Colonel Ts. Batbold, head of the Investigation Department of the State General Prosecutor's Office. Batbold explained that his department was investigating a swindling case involving Bayarmagnai.

At the time, a number of daily newspapers, including "Zuunii Medee" (Century News), "Ardchilal" (Democracy) and "Ardyn Erkh" (People's Right), also published articles on the investigation. But Bayarmagnai named only "Ogloonii Sonin" in his lawsuit, as it was the first paper to report on the alleged embezzlement. The lieutenant colonel accused the paper of defaming him and asked for 10 million MNT (over US$7,000) from the journalist to "redeem his reputation". The journalist earns about US$200 a month.

After reviewing the case on 19 October 2009, the Bayanzurkh District Court found the paper guilty of slander and defamation. "Ogloonii Sonin" was ordered to pay 2 million MNT in damages to the plaintiff and publish a retraction. The paper subsequently filed an appeal with the Capital City Court. The first instance court's ruling was upheld on 18 December 2009, when the newspaper was once again found guilty of defamation. However, the Capital City Court reduced the amount payable to the plaintiff from two million to one million MNT.

Unhappy with the decision, Namuun-Uyanga appealed to the Supreme Court. While her appeal was pending, a criminal case involving Bayarmagnai was re-opened. The journalist then wrote to the Supreme Court asking that review of her appeal be postponed until the case was finalized by the State General Prosecutor's Office. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court upheld the court of appeal decision.

Based on a request by Namuun-Uyanga, G. Davaakhuu, an attorney for Globe International, submitted a complaint to Supreme Court General Judge S. Batdelger in accordance with Article 1761 on the review of civil cases, opposing the decisions of the court of first instance, the court of appeal and the supervising court, all three of which found "Ogloonii Sonin" guilty of slander and defamation.

Namuun-Uyanga has received a number of calls from Bayarmagnai, and most recently, from his lawyer on 27 April 2010. The lieutenant colonel has said he will withdraw his complaint if the journalist agrees to pay him one million MNT. Otherwise, he threatened to use all his powers and connections against her and the paper.

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