Tabloid journalist, A. Erdenetuya, has been sentenced to three months and one day in prison for defamation and fined 900.000 Mongol tugriks (about 670 euros).
Reporters Without Borders said that, without commenting on substance of the offending article, it saw no justification for jailing the journalist and called for her release on bail.
Erdenetuya, aged 22, of Mongolyn Neg Odor (A day in Mongolia), was convicted on 27 April under Article 111/2 of the Mongolian criminal code by the Bayanzurkh district court and sent to Gants Khudag prison in the suburbs of the capital, Ulan-Bator.
In her article, Erdenetuya suggested that the elected member of parliament and former police chief, D. Moron, was the illegitimate father of a young woman who had committed a crime. He brought a defamation case saying his reputation had been tarnished by the libel. The journalist has lodged an appeal.
She was escorted to prison after the hearing by around 30 police officers who prevented the press from interviewing her or taking pictures. Around 100 journalists then demonstrated in front of the court, protesting at a violation of press freedom. Mongolian journalists' organisations also expressed their dissatisfaction with the verdict.
Reporters Without Borders urged Justice Minister, Tsendiin Nyamdorj, to reform the law on defamation by abolishing prison sentences. The UN special rapporteur on free expression has constantly expressed his opposition to prison terms for press offences, viewing this punishment as disproportionate to the harm done to the victim.
Reporters Without Borders however used the occasion to remind the tabloid press of the need to respect professional ethics.
This is not the first time a journalist has been jailed for defamation since the return to democracy. In July 2002, the editor of the daily Ug, a tabloid run by the Mongolian Democratic Party was sentenced to six months in prison for refusing reveal her sources in connection with an article wrongly accusing a young woman of spreading the Aids virus.