Transparency International and ARTICLE 19 today called on the Mongolian government to take urgent legislative action to address an increasingly dangerous environment for independent media in the country.
In January, Article 13.14 of the Mongolian Criminal Code came into effect. This provision stipulates that disseminating false information can be punished by fines equivalent to approximately €300 - €900 Euros, 240 - 720 hours of community service, or restriction of the right to travel for one to three months.
Mongolian press freedom and anti-corruption activists are concerned that the law does not define the term ‘false information’. In practice, they say, police, prosecutors and judges involved in criminal defamation cases are not considering the accuracy of information reported in the media or proving that it is false when charging people under the law.
Article 13.14 should be urgently repealed, the organisations said.
Previously in Mongolia, defamation cases were brought under Article 6.21 of the Law on Administrative Offences. In the first few months of this law coming into effect in late 2017, over 100 journalists were charged, many in cases brought by politicians.
“Unfortunately, Mongolian public figures do not seem to accept that tolerance of criticism and accountability for their actions is part of the job,” said Ilham Mohammed, Asia Pacific regional advisor at Transparency International. “Previous defamation laws were widely used by politicians and business groups to silence critical voices, and now harsher, criminal legislation looks set to continue that trend with potentially dire consequences for independent media voices in Mongolia.”
In addition, Mongolia's 2017 law on state and official secrets allows virtually all information to be classified as a state or official secret, leading in some cases to the prosecution of journalists exposing corruption. The country's Law on Access to Information has not yet been fully implemented, almost a decade after being passed into law.
Furthermore, without an urgent change in course, legislation governing non-profit organisations expected to take effect in May 2020 will impose taxes on non-profits and subject them to government approval.
Transparency International and ARTICLE 19 urged Mongolia’s leaders to recognize that access to information, freedom of association, and free and independent media are fundamental pillars of any democracy and essential for combatting corruption. The government of Mongolia must ensure that its citizens are able to express themselves in line with rights guaranteed by the country’s constitution.