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Mongolian website journalist detained over defamation complaint

This statement was issued by Globe International Center on 16 July 2015.

Globe International Center (GIC) strongly condemns the detention of S.Battulga, a female journalist from info.mn website, and calls for her immediate release. She was arrested on 9 July 2015 and taken to the detention center Gants Hudag.

Criminal proceedings were launched against the journalist and four other individuals, following complaints by S. Bilegt, Director of Noyod LLC, on the grounds of defamation and properties' dispute. The journalist is accused of insult for publishing an article about the aforementioned company and its director on info.mn in June 2013.

The trial was postponed until 27 July as one of the attorneys failed to attend the trial. The Judge of the First Criminal Court considered the absence of the attorney an attempt to interfere with the judicial proceedings by the defendant's side. The journalist and the other defendants were accused, as they have been several times before, of intentionally attempting to delay the hearing process, and exerting pressure on the complainant in order to evade the court case. The Judge ordered the arrest of the journalist and the four other accused until the next hearing, following a request by the complainant's attorney and based on Article 68.1 of the Criminal Proceedings Code.

This is the second time that S. Battulga has been detained in connection with the case. Previously, on 17 July 2014, when the first hearing was scheduled, she was imprisoned for 32 hours. The journalist was originally charged under Article 111.2 of the Mongolian Criminal Code. During the investigation, charges against the journalist were aggravated by changing the above provision to 111.3 which states "Defamation connected with an accusation of committing a serious or grave crime shall be punishable by a fine equal to 151 to 250 times the minimum salary or by imprisonment for a term of 2 to 5 years."

The first hearing in the case was held on 12 December 2014. The journalist was found guilty of insult and ordered to pay compensation of 21 mln. MNT (approx. US$11,000). The appellate court subsequently transferred the case to the first instance court.

On 9 July 2015, the Confederation of Mongolian Journalists (CMJ), GIC and the journalist's attorney G. Batbayar, convened a press conference protesting the journalist's detention and demanding her release. They stated that the journalist's arrest was unjustified and expressed concerns about the detention of the journalist whose article was based on gathered evidence.

GIC considers this an attack against freedom of expression and journalists' professional rights. This is the first incident in Mongolia when a journalist has been convicted together with their source of information.

According to the journalist's attorney, the judge's arrest order is inconsistent with the law and it would be possible to release the journalist on bail until the next hearing.

Battulga's imprisonment has become an issue of concern in the Mongolian media. The Mongolian journalism community protested the imprisonment of their counterpart and joined a movement known as "Stop preventing journalistic activities that are consistent with the law. Free the journalist."

On 15 July, the CMJ issued a statement in support of the journalist and requesting the General Council of Courts to examine the Judge's arrest order and take urgent action.

On 16 July, the journalism community, including CMJ and GIC, convened a press conference calling for the journalist's immediate release. They stated, "The journalist's detention violates Article 39 of the Criminal Code of Mongolia which stipulates 'the prevention of a journalist's professional activities that are consistent with the law, with the view to . . . preventing the dissemination of any information which impacts the culprit's or others' interests shall be punishable…".

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