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Newspaper and journalist face legal action over publication of human trafficking allegations

(Globe International/IFEX) - An investigation is being conducted in a civil defamation case against the "Zuunii Medee" (Century News) daily newspaper. In addition, a criminal case has been launched against "Zuunii Medee" journalist Bolormaa Damdinsuren over the publication of the same article for which the newspaper is being sued.

Since August 2010, "Zuunii Medee" has published a series of more than 20 articles on human trafficking and sexual violation of teenaged Mongolian girls. The paper's investigative office, via Bolormaa, has claimed that an organized criminal group has been engaged in trafficking virgin teenagers for US$500 per girl.

In addition, the newspaper and Bolormaa claim to have verified from confidential sources, including a witness and a victim, that privileged and affluent persons have been involved in the crime group. Using these sources, Bolormaa published an article in the newspaper on 8 November, in Issue #267, claiming that well-known businessman Mr. B. Narankhuu, a director of the Mon-Uranium company, had been involved in buying teenaged girls.

A few hours after the distribution of the issue of the newspaper, three attorneys and legal advisers for Mr. Narankhuu gave a press conference, saying that "Zuunii Medee" had slandered their client and that he was not involved in any such criminal activity.

On 10 November, they filed criminal charges against Bolormaa with the State Investigation Office (SIO). The SIO transferred the case to the Sukhbaatar District Police Department, which is the department covering the area in which the journalist resides.

Bolormaa was called four times to the police department and informed of the charges against her.

After the publication of the article, the journalist received a number of threatening phone calls and information which she says amounted to slander was published in the media.

On 24 November, Mr. Narankhuu filed a civil defamation case against "Zuunii Medee", accusing the newspaper of defamation and demanding compensation in the amount of 3 billion MNT (approx. US$2.4 million).

There is no legal protection for witnesses or victims in Mongolia, so it is possible that threats could be made against the witness and the victims and that slanderous accusations could be made against them and their families, or bribery could be resorted to. The female witness claims she was beaten unconscious by people involved in child trafficking as punishment for approaching the police.

"Zuunii Medee" has written to Globe International (GI) for legal assistance and protection for the journalist. GI is planning to organize a number of activities to protect her, including a press conference. GI also joins with the UN in calling for no criminal charges to be brought against journalists in relation to information they may publish.

"Zuunii Medee" has been publishing for 20 years and is the nation's biggest daily subscription newspaper.

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