Mongolia: Journalist faces eight years in prison for exposing suspected embezzlement by deputy prime minister

The editor-in-chief of a Mongolian online media outlet was recently arrested, and is being prosecuted for investigating suspected misuse of public funds by the deputy prime minister. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the prosecutor's office to drop all charges against her, and urges the authorities to guarantee that journalists can effectively exercise their profession without intimidation.

The editor-in-chief of the Mongolian news website Tac.mnBayarmaa Ayurzana, was arrested on 5 May 2024 and detained for 48 hours, to be later charged with “threatening to disseminate information that might cause serious damage” to Mongolia’s deputy prime minister Amarsaikhan Sainbuyan. The journalist faces up to eight years in prison under article 17.6.1 of the Criminal Code; her trial date is yet to be announced. 

“Bayarmaa Ayurzana only served the public interest by revealing suspected abuses of power at the highest level of the state administration, and should never have been arrested, let alone charged with a criminal offence bearing an eight-year prison term. We call on the Sukhbaatar district prosecutor's office to drop all charges against her, and urge the Mongolian authorities to guarantee that journalists can effectively exercise their profession without interference or intimidation.

Cédric Alviani
RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau Director

Bayarmaa has published, between March 2021 and August 2022, a series of investigative articles shedding light on suspected embezzlement by the deputy prime minister, who is running in the upcoming elections to renew the Mongolian Parliament, at the end of June 2024. The journalist notably disclosed how the official allegedly diverted public funds aimed at modernising the capital city Ulaanbaatar's transportation infrastructure, and used his influence to stall the execution of a court decision obligating him to pay 4.7 million dollars in overdue penalties for the purchase of mines from an American citizen.

The police searched Bayarmaa’s home in January 2024, confiscating her phones, laptop as well as a notebook containing a flash drive, which has not yet been returned to the journalist. Ten days before the journalist's arrest, her investigative partner, lawyer G. Batbayar, was found apparently shot dead inside his vehicle. Batbayar had been working for eight years on legal cases opposing the alleged illegal activities of mining companies belonging to individuals from the deputy prime minister’s circles.

Mongolia, ranked 109th out of 180 territories in RSF’s 2024 World Press Freedom Index, has plummeted down 36 places since 2020. The press freedom situation is considered “difficult”, due to frequent abusive criminal proceedings against journalists under the guise of defamation, as well as a high concentration of media ownership in the hands of the economic and political elites.

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