12/11/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/11/2023 01:02
Journalist Naran Unurtsetseg, the editor-in-chief of the Mongolian news website Zarig.mn, was arrested on December 4 on charges of contempt of court and spreading false information. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Mongolian affiliate, the Confederation of Mongolian Journalists (CMJ), call for the immediate release of the journalist and criticise efforts to silence and block the online publication.
Journalist Naran Unurtsetseg, the editor-in-chief of the Mongolian news website Zarig.mn, was arrested on December 4. Credit: Facebook
Unurtsetseg's arreston December 4 was witnessedby Mongolian media workers in the editorial office of Zarig.mn in Ulaanbaatar, the capitol city of Mongolia. The editor was allegedly charged with contempt of court and "spreading false information" under Article 13.14 of the Criminal Code of Mongolia after postingan on her personal Facebook account about the inhumanity of a prolonging court hearing involving an elderly individual in Mongolia.
A court hearing in the Songinokhairkhan District court from December 1 to 4, approvedthe prosecutor's proposal to detain Unurtsetseg for one month.Earlier, on November 29, the Criminal Court of First Instance of Chingeltei District also approveda proposal to take preventive measures to restrict Unurtsetseg from leaving Mongolia. Additionally, a legal and administrative body in Mongolia imposed a block on the access to the zarig.mn website within Mongolian territories, and added the website of zarig.mn to the list of illegal domain names, according to a joint statementreleased by The Media Council and Globe International Centre.
In response to the curtailing of the editor and its online portal, Unurtsetseg and journalists from Zarig.mn helda sit-in protest at Sukhbaatar Square on December 1. The CMJ said after it submitted demands to the Regulatory Commission of Communications, the Ministry of Digital Development and Communications, the National Police Agency, and the Prosecutor General's Office of Mongolia, the zarig.mn website was subsequently unblocked on December 4.
Unurtsetseg has been variously pursued for her journalism work in recent years and faced12 defamation charges in 2019, followed by four in 2020 - all initiated by politicians mentioned in her reporting. Despite successfully beating most of the cases, Unurtsetseg still faces a fine of around US$800, roughly the equivalent to two months' salary for the average journalist in Mongolia.
On December 8, Unurtsetseg's lawyers attended a hearing and appealed to the court for the journalist's release due to unjustified detention. They also raised concerns that some legal provisions may have been violated during the investigation, and that the case's investigation was deliberately accelerated.
Media activists advise that law enforcement agencies and authorities in Mongolia were using Article 13.14 of the Criminal Code to restrict journalists' capacity to perform their professional duties by investigating and charging them with crimes under the code. Article 13.14, which addresses the spreading of false information and stipulates penalties such as fines or public service, came into effect on January 10, 2020. Since then, numerous journalists have facedaccusations of crimes.
CMJ reports that approximately 10 journalists are currently under investigation, including Unurtsetseg; Uranchimeg, of asu.mn), and A. Bayarmaa, of tas.mn; as well as the journalist and founder of Zarig.mn, J. Battul. The latter is part of the "Uncensored Team" program which is currently investigating and reporting onthe Foreign Investment Lawin Mongoliaand its possible revision. Battul hasfaced complaints from the Member of Parliament, Minister Ch. Khurelbaatar.
The CMJ said: "The blocking of access to the zarig.mn website within Mongolian territories is clearly a violation of the principles and norms of professional journalism and press freedom. The suspension of the editorial office and the sealing off of the company, while only investigating an individual who leads the company of a crime, is an intervention to press freedom and the civil right to know."
The IFJ said:"The IFJ urges the Mongolian authorities to release Unurtsetseg immediately, allow journalists in Mongolia to perform their work without interference, and ensure the press freedom and the freedom of speech is upheld."