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Mongolian newspaper journalists face fines, criminal defamation charges

On September 23, 2013 the Chingeltei District Court reviewed a criminal case against three Terguun newspaper journalists according to article 111.2 of the Criminal Code and imposed fines of 29 mln. MNT (approx. US$17,000) on them, instructing that "inability to pay the fines would result in a 3 year prison sentence." Subsequently, on December 5, 2013, the Capital City Court upheld the decision of the District Court.

Globe International Center considers these court decisions to be threatening to the livelihood of journalists personally and damaging to Mongolia's free press. State imposed sanctions on media such as this, coupled with large fines, lead to a weakened media sector with no freedom of expression and can bankrupt the targeted media outlets.

In May 2012, Terguun journalist L. Tsedevsuren published an article titled: "Judges of Erdenet city are farming vegetables and acting like housekeepers for their bosses." Following the article's release, Orkhon Province Chief Justice P. Batsaikhan filed criminal charges against Tsedevsuren accusing him of publicly defaming his reputation. The case was suspended several times while being investigated.

Then, in August 2012, Terguun journalist D. Otgonjargal published an article titled: "Daughter of prime minister professional poker player." After the article was published, the Chingeltei District Court filed criminal charges against Otgonjargal following a complaint made by Prime Minister N. Altankhuyag, who accused the journalist of publicly defaming his business and family reputation. Moreover, the Court filed criminal charges against the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Ms. B. Tsoojchuluuntsetseg, on the grounds that she failed to properly review the two publications, citing the Law on Media Freedom: "Media shall be held responsible for its published or broadcast information."

The Chingeltei District Court merged and tried the two criminal cases together, ordering three Terguun journalists to pay fines. On September 23, 2013 the court ordered B. Otgonjargal, according to Criminal Code provision 111.2, to pay compensation 51 times higher than the minimum wage or 7.160.400 MNT (approx.US$4,350), L. Tsedevsuren to pay compensation 55 times higher than the minimum wage or 7.722.000 MNT (approx.US$4,700) and B. Tsoojchuluuntsetseg to pay 100 times higher than the minimum wage or 14.040.000 MNT (approx.US$8,500).

According to the sentenced journalists, "the court decision violates Article 21.2 of the Criminal Procedure Code and only that information favorable to the PM was taken from files relevant to the case. The information sources or witnesses were not properly scrutinized or questioned and the court's penalty was based on false testimony. Also, the request to question witnesses was not considered and evidence submitted by the journalists was not reviewed." Further, police officers demanded that the journalists reveal their sources even going so far as to call the editor-in-chief, who was in labor, from the hospital to come out and read the case files. Later the officials met her at the entrance to her apartment and demanded that she sign a file immediately after having given birth.

Globe International Center disputes the court's decision as it may cause financial hardship for the media outlet and act as a form of economic censorship at the government's discretion.

Globe International Center told Prime Minister N. Altankhuyag, in an official letter, that as a promoter and advocate of democracy, he should realize that maintaining a free and independent media is essential to ensuring the integrity of democracy and is much more important than any single person's reputation - government official or otherwise - and that the procedural mistakes in this case prove that future disputes should be decided according to the Civil Code.

The UN Human Rights Committee discussed the Mongolian Government's report on the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) meeting No 101, held from March 14-21, 2011 in New York and produced the following Concluding Observations on the implementation of recommendation No25 concerning Article 19: "The State party should … consider decriminalizing defamation…" The Government shall submit the implementation report to the UN Human Rights Committee in 2015.

Globe International Center is a nongovernmental organization which has vigorously acted to protect the rights of journalists and the freedom of the media and information since its establishment in 1999.

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