Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières – RSF) has expressed its concern after the editor of Mongolian daily newspaper Ug (Word) was jailed for one year for publishing false information that led indirectly to the death of a woman it had named as a possible AIDS victim.
The editor, Hand-dolgor, was sentenced by a court in Sukhbaatar district of the capital Ulan Bator on 31 July after she was found guilty of "defamation" under article 117.2 of the Criminal Law and imprisoned at the Gants Hudag detention centre.
Her newspaper carried an article on 5 March 2002 deploring the spread of AIDS in Selenge province on Mongolia’s northern border. A woman was named in the article as a supposed AIDS victim, who had a large number of sexual partners. After a health check by officials found her HIV-negative, the editor published a front-page apology that appeared on April 26.
But, on 18 May, the woman was beaten to death by one of her lovers who had demanded proof she did not have AIDS.
"Defamation is a crime that should be punished, but Reporters Without Borders considers - based on the view of the UN Special rapporteur on freedom of expression - that a jail term is a disproportionate sanction. The editor of Ug cannot be held directly responsible for the tragic events that followed publication of the article," said Reporters Without Borders General Secretary Robert Ménard, in a letter to Mongolian justice and internal affairs minister, Tsendiin Nyamdorj.
While condemning the flagrant breach of journalistic ethics in the case, Reporters Without Borders urged the minister to ensure that the journalist was able to benefit from a fair appeal hearing.