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Mongolian officials file criminal defamation charges against provincial journalists

5 February 2015 - Globe International Center (GIC) is deeply concerned about criminal defamation charges brought against two provincial journalists - N. Munkhtur, from Orkhon province and S. Ankhbayar from Uvs province - based on complaints filed by the Chairmen of the Citizens Representative Khural. Even though the articles were in the public interest, the two journalists are being accused of defamation through online and social media.

Munkhtur had published online a series of critical publications about the Orkhon province's administration.

B. Myagmarsuren, Chairman of the Citizens Representative Khural of Orkhon province, argued that he had been defamed several times by the journalist's articles and filed charges of "insulting and libeling him and breaching the right to the security of a person according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights".

Ankhbayar faces criminal defamation charges due to information he posted on his Facebook account criticising Ch. Chimed, Chairman of the Citizens Representative Khural of Uvs province. In the posts the journalist commented on decisions taken at certain illegal meetings, the unlawful allocation of land permissions and the expenditure of public money.

GIC sent letters to the Chairmen calling on them to withdraw their complaints against the journalists and to be more tolerant of crticism as befits their positions as elected officials.

According to Ankhbayar, after he posted a GIC letter on the Facebook addressing Ch. Chimed and saying "Did you receive this letter? My right is being protected", the journalist was found guilty on one more count for allegedly "spreading biased information to the public and intervening in the investigation process". Even though the police dismissed the case, the Aimag's Prosecutor charged the journalist with criminal defamation.

When the journalist invited provincial media outlets to a Press Conference during which he explained on which grounds he was charged, most of the journalists refused to broadcast the story saying "We do not want to fall into a situation like yours." According to the journalist, the Chairman prevented media from covering the case by threatening them. Aimags' Head of Legal Department reminded the journalist "We have been registering your posts. You defamed Mr. Chimed 256 times."

Both journalists are being prosecuted under Article 111 of the Mongolian Criminal Code. If convicted, they could face a large fine or up to 6 months in prison.

According to GIC's free expression monitoring reports, there were 27 criminal defamation cases between 2005 and 2012 and only in 2013-2014, the number reached 18. All the plaintiffs are elected authorities, pubic officials or public organizations.

In May 2014, the chairmanship of the Freedom Online Coalition passed on to Mongolia for 2014-2015; nevertheless the situation concerning freedom of expression has become alarming due to the current political, legal and regulatory conditions, particularly since the Government took steps towards restricting internet freedom in 2013. Criminal defamation has become a real concern social media users and the matter is drawing the attention of the international community.

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