Mongolia

Mongolia

The Mongolian flag was adopted on February 12, 1992

By Crystal Winger

Introduction

As the least densely populated country in the world Mongolia has been ranked number 54 out of 180 countries on the 2015 World Press Freedom Index. This is a remarkable move up from its previous status as number 88 in 2014, and as number 98 in 2013. According to Freedom House, Mongolia’s press in 2014 was considered “partly free” with an overall ranking of 37 out of 100 (with 0 being the best and 100 being the worst score). Looking back from 2002, it seems that Mongolia’s freedom of press has stayed within the 30’s range with only minor deviations. Since the Democratic Revolution in 1990, it seems that there is a trend where “free speech” is becoming more and more “free” in Mongolia.

History

 

Mongolia is currently the least densely populated and the second largest land-locked state in the world, with Russia north of the country and China east, south, and west of the country. It is barred on all sides by two countries that are much bigger in size and stature. However, there was a time when Mongolia’s empire was unmatched, an expanse of about 33 million square kilometers stretching from present-day Poland on its western borders all the way to Korea on its eastern borders and covering much of Siberia on its northern borders to Vietnam on its southern borders. Founded and ruled by Chinggis (Genghis) Khan in 1206, their fortune did not last long. Once Chinggis Khan died in 1227 the Empire was subdivided into four kingdoms which were eventually overthrown by the Chinese Ming Dynasty in 1368.

With much of their Empire gone and constant internal conflict occurring, Mongolia was easily susceptible to foreign invasion. From 1691 to 1921, Mongolia fell under Chinese rule and it wasn’t until the Russian Red Army helped the Mongols revolt that they were removed from Chinese power. Unfortunately, the Mongols fell into a Soviet-dominated Communist regime for 70 years after that. Finally, inspired by policies in the Soviet Union such as Glasnost and Perestroika that call for the reform and restructuring of the economy and for a more transparent government through wider freedom of expression rules, Mongolia entered a democratic revolution in 1990. The country has since renounced communism and operated under a multi-party democracy with a new constitution and a growing market economy.

Currently, the government operates under a 76-member unicameral parliamentary legislature called The State Great Khural. Under the parliament is the president who serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and head of the National Security Council. This position is held for a 4-year term with a 2-term limit. Nominated by the president and subject to the approval of the parliament is the prime minister who is the head of the executive branch. This position is also confined to a 4 year term. The prime minister chooses the members of the cabinet with the approval of the Parliament. The cabinet is the highest executive body of Mongolia.

According to Freedom House, in 2014 the people of Mongolia enjoyed a freedom rating of 1.5, a civil liberties rating of 2, and a political rights rating of 1. On a scale from 1 to 5 with one being the best and five being the worst, these are very good rates. Mongolians indeed enjoy a relatively free life.

Free Speech

1. Historical Events

Mongolia’s history of free speech is very small, as it did not exist until the democratic revolution of 1990 and is still struggling to become completely free to this day. Prior to the institution of democracy, the people of Mongolia were under a strict authoritarian-communist regime much like the Soviet Union’s. Under this type of government, purges of dissidents occurred. There was only one radio station and one TV station that were both government-controlled and many citizens were afraid to speak their minds and the truth. From 1924 until 1990 the only Mongolian political party, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), mirrored the USSR in their governmental policies.

In 1952, under Prime Minister Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal, things began to slowly change. Tsedenbal slightly modified the authoritarian system by participating in purges but only exiling or imprisoning dissidents instead of executing them. This was a big step in reforming the government and showing mercy towards anyone who had an opposing view or opinion about the government. Tsedenbal was soon replaced by his successor, Jambyn Batmünkh who attempted to take big steps in reforming the government. Mirroring Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost policies in Russia, he advocated transparency in the bureaucracy and gave journalist’s more openness in criticizing bureaucratic actions. As a result of this, newspapers began publishing letters of citizen’s complaints towards government officials. At the same time that this was occurring Russia began opening up foreign relations with China and America. This allowed Mongolia to do the same and this opened the door for Mongolian ambassadors to explore Western governments and democracy, which played a big role in influencing the next couple of years in Mongolia. By 1987 foreign relations between America and Mongolia were established. By 1989 a barrage of changes were imposed in Mongolian bureaucracy, such as names being cleared from purges, government officials supporting democracy and there was accountability of the government. Tsedenbal was also charged with incarcerating people unjustly and creating a cult of personality. This was the first time that a serious critique was taken of a leader who had just recently ruled in Mongolia. Unfortunately, these changes were only a step in the right direction, there needed to be a leap as human rights were still being infringed upon.

This leap occurred on Dec. 10, 1989, International Human Rights Day. Two-hundred people marched in Sükhbaatar Square in the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar. Which would be considered the equivalent to Tiananmen Square in China and the Red Square in Russia. It was a peaceful protest filled with banners and signs calling for the elimination of oppression and asking for promises to implement Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost-like policies in Mongolia. The basic requests of the protesters were a multiparty political system, a concern for the protection of human rights above all other things, and a free press. These protesters called themselves the Mongolian Democratic Union (MDU) and were made up of young 20-30 year olds and whose leaders were educated in the West or during the freer Soviet era of the 1980’s where Western influence was readily available through TV channels and news stations.

As a result of the restructuring of the government and the more westernized viewpoint that Mongolia was taking on, there was no authoritative/governmental backlash that occurred because of the protest. The politburo, the chief policy-making committee, was unsure of how to handle the situation as many wanted to institute a more democratic government in the country, so there was no action taken against the protesters.

Prior to this demonstration, the MDU had held meetings calling for reform, and the government knew about these meetings as some government officials would monitor the meetings and report back to their supervisors. However, nothing was done to stop these meetings as it was only considered a venue for discussion and no actions had occurred as a direct result of the discussion. This was during the time of perestroika and glasnost in Russia which had a major effect on the Mongolian government, and during the time of Batmünkh the reformist leader of Mongolia. Because of these events that were occurring in and around the country at the time, there was a much more lenient view of tolerating those who were voicing their opinions and concerns in the country.

Due to the positive reaction of the politburo towards the protesters on Dec. 10, 1989, the MDU continued their efforts to push for democratic reform. On March 7, 1990, the MDU took to the Sükhbaatar Square again but with a different tactic. They wanted the government to understand the seriousness of their requests so they approached the politburo with hunger strikes. Ten men began the hunger strike with the full force of the MDU behind them. The demands for democracy were expanded and the legality of the MPRP and governmental institutions were challenged. In response to this, two representatives were sent to persuade the strikers to stop but to no avail. The strike continued to the next day with many citizens joining in the cause, eventually there was civil unrest. A negotiator was sent out from the politburo, and the dialogue was broadcasted for everyone to see, but a compromise could not be reached. By March 9, Batmünkh and the entire politburo agreed to step down in favor of a more democratic nation. Because of this series of events, a form of democracy was instituted in Mongolia and free speech and free press were issues that were given a lot of depth and seriousness.

2. Current Events

Mongolians are unified in the idea that freedom is the product of democracy and an essential part of that democratic freedom is free speech. In Sabloff’s Does Everyone Want Democracy?: Insights From Mongolia, surveys were done and a majority of Mongolians agreed that free speech was the most important aspect of a democratic society, and that this in part led to freedom in America. Although protected by the constitution, Mongolia is still struggling with free speech. Many citizens feel much freer to express their opinions and concerns with the government than they have in the past, however there is still an issue of complete freedom of expression. As can be seen by the events of 1989 and 1990, freedom of assembly was tolerated. This was due to changes taking place within the political environment. However, now that a democratic nation has been established, the government no longer feels the need to step around issues or tip-toe on subjects, thus a problem has occurred where the government is starting to get too comfortable again and a problem of transparency within the government is not being fully supported. Many citizens have been imprisoned and/or fined for the public defamation of officials, such as is the case with S. Ankhbayar in 2015 when he commented on an article criticizing a government official on a social media website. He is now facing criminal defamation charges because he criticized an official on Facebook. Fortunately the police have dropped the charges against him, but the official’s prosecutor is charging Ankhbayar with criminal defamation. Because of this negative backlash, other citizens and journalists are being careful not to fall into the same trap as Ankhbayar, which is encroaching on freedom of expression, because people are now afraid to vocalize views that do not fall in line with the government. Situations like this have been occurring more and more in the past years, especially with the government cracking down on internet restriction in 2013. Social media expression is becoming a serious concern in Mongolia and freedom of speech is being encroached upon even though it is stated in the Mongolian constitution as a right.

Free Press

1. Historical Events

As stated above, the citizens of Mongolia have pushed for their right of freedom of speech and press. During the democratic protests of 1989 and 1990, there was a big push for freedom of speech however there was also a recognition that free press was an essential part of a democratic nation. Prior to the revolution the MPRP had formed the Censorship Bureau that checked everything before it went to the press, and there was only one newspaper, one TV station, and one radio station. The purpose of this was that all news outlets would be government-controlled and propaganda would be blasted to the citizens of Mongolia. During the communist regime, people were very guarded and could not publish anything.

During the Democratic Revolution of 1990, the door was opened for a more free press in the nation, and the Mongolian Democratic Journalist’s Union was created. However there was still a lot of government-controlled media outlets that spread propaganda as if there was still a communist regime. The MRTV, which was the official state TV station, acted as if huge protesting had not occurred and operated under the pretense of complete government control. During 1992 the first free elections of Mongolia, after the constitution had been written, the MPRP won and it seemed that all progress would be lost. Fortunately, in 1996 the first non-communist party was elected and privatization of state-owned companies and competition began.

By 1998, most newspapers were privately owned, and a Media Freedom Law was passed. Under this law, freedom of press was protected, and this was considered a big victory and a step in the right direction for many Mongolians. Unfortunately, once the MPRP regained control of parliament in 2000, the media was once again stifled. On an analysis of the Mongolian constitution, 51 out of the 91 laws pertaining to freedom of expression needed to be amended so that there would no longer be restrictions on the freedom of expression. Instead of free press, 83 journalists were being sued by the government for defamation.

Currently, defamation and restrictions on press are plaguing Mongolia in a big way. After extensive research it seems that the major problem in Mongolia regarding freedom of expression has more to do with the freedom of the press than it does with the right to assemble or speak. There is a lack of transparency in the government when the MPRP is placed in power and glimpses of the old regime come back to the country.

2. Current Events

The Mongolian government is having a hard time adjusting to criticisms of public officials. There have been many stories of criminal charges being brought to journalists who openly question and criticize the government and because of this, newspapers and media are in fear of expressing their true opinions.

A Communications Regulatory Commission (CRC) was established in Mongolia for the purpose of regulating copyright laws, related rights, international treaties and conventions, however it is being used by the government to regulate, block and take down websites that contain evidence of government official’s actions. Such is the case of amjilt.com when it was blocked by the CRC because of a criticism of the prime minister. In July 2014, a journalist posted a photo with the headline, “Khaan Jims resort to be owned by Prime Minister pours its pollution into the Tuul River.” Immediately after this posting the website received a call from the CRC and was asked to take the article down. Upon refusal the website was blocked by the CRC. The refusal was based off of an illegitimate reason as to why the website should take the article down. Situations just like this are occurring at an alarming rate where the government is overstepping their boundaries when truthful articles about their actions are being revealed to citizens. The lack of transparency in the government is discouraging, however there are many journalists in Mongolia who are fighting for their rights to be “police” of the government. And the country’s free press rating has improved since the previous year and judging from past ratings, it is getting much better as time goes on

Critical Comparison

Mongolia has come a long way since 1989 when they were still under the control of Soviet Russia and has done incredibly well since its freedom from the communist regime. Many say that this is the first successful attempt of a previously communist country becoming democratic. Unfortunately, compared to America, Mongolia is still far behind in free speech and free press rights. During the democratic revolution of 1990, the Mongolian government was surprisingly lenient and positive towards the protesters. They realized that it is time for a change in the government and were willing to listen to the demands of the Mongolian Democratic Union. However, since then, the government has not been so open. For example, when it comes to publicly criticizing an official the government takes very strict measures in the form of outrageous fines and jail sentences. There has also been cases of threats and actual violence against those who report rumors of government officials, such as is the case with Munkhbayasgalan (Baysa for short). Baysa is a twenty-two year old police reporter of Mongolia’s most popular newspaper, Seruuleg (Alarm Clock). She wrote an article accusing a politician of rape and two months later was attacked in a dark stairwell leading up to her office. In America, it is well within the citizens’ rights to publicly criticize any public official regardless of their stature. This has been proved time and time again. Not only can American’s criticize officials without penalty, they take pride in being able to do so and take it for granted. This is not the case in Mongolia.

In America, hate speech is protected as seen by Brandenburg v. Ohio when the Supreme Court protected the leader of a KKK clan and ruled that he had the right to express his ideas and opinions regardless of how disgusting and hateful they were. However, Mongolia is attempting to do the opposite. In an effort to protect their citizen’s and the not-so-accepted minorities, the country is trying to pass legislation to allow hate-based motivation as a means of criminalizing a person. While this may seem like a good idea in theory, many citizens worry about how far this provision may go in protecting a citizen’s rights, and if it may overstep legal boundaries. In a country such as America where freedom runs deep and justice even deeper, citizens may not have to worry about hate speech affecting their lives. In Mongolia however, this is a real threat. Not only to those who are spreading the speech but to those who are being affected by the speech. Putting in measures against hate speech has good intent behind it, but the nature of hate speech is that it is biased and those who are attempting to figure out which speech is acceptable and which is not will be tempted to be biased as well when convicting editors, reporters, and average citizens. In reality, limiting hate speech seems to do more harm than good.

In terms of free press, cases such as the Pentagon Papers or New York Times v. Sullivan would end in catastrophe in Mongolia. News sources and journalists are being fined and jailed left and right in Mongolia for giving even the mildest of criticisms. Back in the 1990s, the politburo accepted the protests because the country was in a precarious position of not wanting to be taken over by China or Russia again, but now that Mongolia has more autonomy this is not as big of a fear. Journalists do not have the same freedom in Mongolia as they do in America. In Mongolia it is up to the journalist or news source to prove intent on defamation charges which can be very difficult to do, however in America defamation charges are very hard to procure for those that wish to pursue them because of America’s longtime standing of the importance of freedom of the press.

Conclusion

 

Unfortunately, the Mongol courts do not hold in high regard the importance of freedom of the press to democracy that the American courts do. There is either a lack of understanding or a lack of desire for a true democracy that is holding Mongolia back from achieving the same level of freedom in first amendment rights that Americans hold.

While Mongolia has dramatically improved since 1992 when the democracy was first established it still has a long way to go if it wants to catch up to America’s standards on free speech and free press rights held by citizens. Fortunately, the country has shown a remarkable desire to become freer in their democracy with vast increases in their World Press Freedom Index scores in the past couple of years. It seems very likely that Mongolian officials will soon hold these true democratic values in their hearts just as their American counterparts do, but it will take some time. After all, America did not instantly become truly free in their rights to express themselves after the First Amendment was passed. This is something that takes time, but once it is established and the people believe in it, it is something that has staying power within the government.

 

 

Works Cited

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Freedom House (Ed.). (2014). Mongolia Freedom of the Press 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2015,

from Freedom House website: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2014/mongolia#.VSXQWZVFDX4

Globe International Center (Ed.). (2015, February 9). Mongolian officials file criminal defamation charges against provincial journalists. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from IFEX website: http://www.ifex.org/mongolia/2015/02/09/defamation_charges_journalists/Globe International Center (Ed.). (2014, July 9). Mongolian website blocked after posting article about prime minister’s property. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from IFEX website: https://www.ifex.org/mongolia/2014/07/09/website_blocked/

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This essay was last updated on April 30, 2015

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