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Risk of freedom of expression in Mongolia remains, even after new interpretation

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The Supreme Court of Mongolia has released its interpretation of Articles 110 and 111 of the Criminal Code. Many civil society organisations in the country are concerned that this interpretation may pose a threat to the right to freedom of expression of the journalists in Mongolia.
(Bangkok) Civil society organisations are concerned over new interpretation in the Criminal Code of Mongolia related to slander and defamation.

Interpretation of the two articles, issued by the Supreme Court, was meant to clarify the crimes of slander and defamation, by providing a uniform understanding and correct application of the provisions, but civil society consider it insufficient.

According to the Supreme Court, the term “reputation” means “evaluation by others of individual’s personality and ethics, business capabilities and the level of professionalism” (Translation by the Globe International NGO).

However, lawyer G. Davaakhuu, from Globe International NGO argued that this interpretation open the term “reputation” to subjective evaluation by others. This, he added, particularly puts at risk the right to freedom of expression of journalists in Mongolia. Freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Mongolia ratified the convention in 1974.

Civil society organisations, such as Globe International NGO, working on freedom of expression are concerned that these articles pose a threat to the right to freedom of expression, not only for journalists but also for Mongolia citizens. They said that the Interpretation of the Supreme Court did not clarify the terms “slander” and “defamation”, mentioned in the articles.

Article 110 defines the crime of slander and provides that those who willfully humiliate an individual’s honor or dignity through the mass media will be fined up to 20 to 50 times the amount of the minimum salary provided by law or jailed for a period of one to three months. Article 111, on the other hand, defines the crime defamation and states that those who spread knowingly false fabrications defaming another individual will be fined up to 20 to 50 times the amount of the minimum salary as provided by law or jailed for a period of one to three months. The penalty is increased if the person who commits the acts under Articles 110 and 111 has previously been convicted under the same articles.

Since the Code was passed in Parliament on 3 January 2002, nine individuals, six of them journalists, have been accused under these two articles. Three of the journalists were jailed and the other three slapped with a fine of about 3 Million Mongolian Tugrug (about US$ 2,500). Currently, 30 cases related to journalists are pending investigation.

Meanwhile, journalists have been punished for broadcasting information already made public. In 2007 for instance, journalist N. Demberel was charged under Articles 110 and 111 of the Criminal Code for broadcasting a review of information already published in another media. He was ordered to pay a fine of 9,970,000 Tugrug (about US$ 8,450), which is 130 times the minimum wage salary in Mongolia.