Despite opposition claims, the government of President Natsagiyn Bagabandi, a former communist, has generally upheld democratic gains. However police investigations of journalists for alleged defamation have increased sharply.

Several hundred persons, mainly members of the opposition Democratic Party demonstrated outside the headquarter of the state-owned radio and television broadcaster in Ulan Bator on 12 April 2002 to demand more pluralism in the state news media and President Bagabandi's resignation. In a response that evening on state television, the general secretary of the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) said the protesters' demands were "unrealistic."

The London-based media watchdog Article 19 reported in May that the Mongolian government had still not submitted to parliament the proposed law on public broadcasting that was drafted by the justice ministry in 2001. Although a1998 press law bans government control of the news media, the draft law would ensure only a partial dismantling of government control over broadcasting, according to the British NGO. It would allow the prime minister to appoint the entire board of governors of the state-owned radio and TV broadcaster, which would be required to carry the communiqués of the president, prime minister and president of the legislature. The law had still not been passed at the end of 2002.

Jambal Myagmarsuren, editor-in-chief of Udriin Sonin (Daily News), and Tsedevsurengiin Amarjargal, the head of its investigative section, were questioned by police in Ulan Bator on 21 June. Amarjargal was charged with libel under article 117.2 of the criminal code for publishing a communiqué of the "Justice" faction of the ruling MPRP on 14 May. He faced up to two years in prison. Addressed to all members of the party, the communiqué criticised a lack of democracy within the party and accused the government of using the state-owned broadcaster and pliant newspapers for a personality cult of Prime Minister Nambaryn Enkhbayar. It also accused the prime minister of being implicated in the death of several leading the MPRP members. The MPRP denied the existence of any internal dissident faction. But G. Bayarsaikhan, an MPRP member and producer of a television magazine programme, told the press on 18 June that he was the leader of "Justice," whereupon he was also questioned by the police. A few days later, Udriin Sonin reported "an attempt to regain control of the news media by means of threats against our newspaper."

B. Handdolgor, editor of the newspaper Ug (Word), was sentenced to a year in prison by the court of the Sukhbaatar district of Ulan Bator on 31 July for libel under article 117.2 of the criminal code. She was imprisoned in the Gants Hudag detention centre. In a report about the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus in the northern frontier province of Selenge on 5 March, her newspaper had named a women allegedly infected with the virus who allegedly had been having many sexual partners. After health officials subsequently tested the woman and found her to be HIV negative, the newspaper published a front-page apology on 26 April. However, the woman was beaten to death on 18 May by her boyfriend, who wanted proof she was not infected. Handdolgor was prosecuted as a result of this killing. Her sentence was reduced to six months on appeal in September.

On 8 November, the Mongolian Newspapers Association (MNA) launched a press campaign with the slogan "Stop jailing journalists," which was carried on the front pages of the newspapers Udriin Sonin, Mongoliin Medee, Humuus and Shar Sonin. The MNA called on parliamentarians to modify articles of the criminal code that allow journalists to be imprisoned for press offences. A local human rights NGO, the Liberty Centre, said at least 17 journalists were currently the subject of investigations and all faced the possibility of prison sentences. There had been a big increase in the number of complaints against journalists, the centre said.

Four journalists and opposition party members – including Tseren-Ochir, editor in chief of Ardchilal (Democracy), the newspaper of the opposition Democratic Party – were arrested on the night of 12 November while covering a peaceful demonstration against the land ownership law. A reporter with radio Bat-Uul and reporter with the daily Udriin Sonin claimed to have beaten by police, who seized their equipment. Police also detained some 45 demonstrators. The journalists were held in a police station and released the next morning. At the same time, another three journalists including B. Ariunbold, a journalist with Udriin Sonin, were detained by police at the Democratic Party's headquarters along with 14 other persons and was held for six hours. The state-run television station's coverage of these events, especially the arrests, was criticised as "biased" by the opposition.


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