Kh.Naranjargal: Tossing out the article on defamation crimes was a step forward
The article on defamation should not be re-included in the Criminal Code. In the least, people will be scared to speak their mind. A democratic society protects the basic human rights. Expressing one’s opinion is a basic human right. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference”. So, without expressing our opinion, how can we criticize the wrongdoings and faults in our society?
Worldwide, defamation cases are trialed by the civil court. Some Mongolian lawyers view that it’s impossible for the local civil courts to decide on these types of matters. Can you comment on this?
People are angered when there’s news of the government making a wrong decision or a state official getting connected to corruption. When they say something about it, they are accused of defamation. We would have a serious problem if all of these cases are considered for penalty. This is an act to restrict people’s right to express their opinion. Imposing any form of punishment on such cases could become a violation of the UN and international conventions ratified by Mongolia.
The UN Human Rights Commission reviewed the human rights situation in Mongolia and gave 164 recommendations. Eight of them were related to the freedom of opinion and expression. The Mongolian government announced to the whole world that it has accepted these recommendations. Later, it included them in its action plan.
In May, the government reported that one of the eight human rights recommendations had been fulfilled. This was accomplished by removing the article on defamation from the Criminal Code. It’s wrong to cancel that decision which helped cross out one of the to-do recommendations.
Tossing out the article on defamation crimes was a step forward for Mongolia to some extent. But it was meaningless to put it back into the Law on Conflicts. If a person is punished for defamation in accordance with the Law on Conflicts and he or she repeals, the case will have to be reviewed by the Criminal Cases Court. In that sense, there’s still the fear that people could become a criminal (if they say something wrong).
How well is Mongolia following recommendations of international organizations?
In July 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee reviewed the Mongolian government’s sixth report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its state parties. A team led by Deputy Minister for Justice and Internal Affairs B.Enkhbayar presented the report. The Human Rights Committee made new conclusions and recommendations.
The sixth recommendation advised the government to make press restrictions consistent with international conventions and completely remove the article on defamation from the Criminal Code. It recommended the protection of journalists and media specialists from threats and constraints by politicians, and eradicate such actions through appropriate measures. Yet, the current Criminal Code specifies imprisonment for anyone who is deemed guilty of defamation or slander of a candidate during an election. We must enforce recommendations of international bodies because international conventions and agreements need to be aligned with the laws of Mongolia.
In the Constitution, our country promises to fulfill its obligations accepted from the international community. We shouldn’t go against it.
The law initiators claimed that bringing back the defamation article will protect the rights of journalists. Do you agree with this statement?
This action is causing fear not only among journalists but also ordinary people. Restriction on criticism is a threat to the people’s rights to freely express their opinion. People will get the notion that they will be imprisoned if they say anything. This article on defamation will become a shield for those with power and money. Financially and socially influential people will take advantage of this regulation for their own benefit. Just for writing an article and expressing their thoughts, journalists and ordinary individuals will turn into criminals through this proposed idea.
For example, people who are traveling abroad get authentication for their criminal history from the police. If a person has been punished for defamation, it will become a criminal record. This article cannot become a protection for journalists. Journalists are required to report timely news consistent with the public’s interests. When doing so, they could make a mistake with the numbers or add their opinion to the article and for doing so, they shouldn’t be turned into a criminal.
The public has the right to monitor the state. That is why they rely and trust media outlets. This article on defamation will obstruct journalists’ obligation as the fourth governance and restrict their ability to supervise the state.