Mongolia: In a Chokehold
Gundalai--who is also the deputy chair of Mongolia's biggest opposition grouping, the Democratic Party--was charged with attempting to illegally cross Mongolia's borders in an attempt to flee the country.
Plainclothes officers from the Police Investigative Office on 24 July arrested Gundalai at Democratic Party headquarters in an action that has spurred public protests and Democratic Party outrage.
Pictures of Gundalai being dragged across the ground and the parliamentarian's driver in a chokehold were quickly published in non-state-controlled media, with one of the shots already enlarged and hanging on the Democratic Party building in the center of the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar the day of the arrest.
Gundalai and the chair of the Democratic Party, M. Enkhsaikhan, are currently under investigation for their recent allegations that Justice Minister Ts. Nyamdorj released secret materials to a foreign intelligence service. Democratic Party leaders claim that they have 45 pages of "top secret" materials to prove the claims.
According to U. Enkhtur, the chief of the fourth department of the Police Investigative Office, officers were responding to a 30 June order filed to prevent Gundalai from leaving the country to "escape the investigation."
"Gundalai has been called in for questioning on several occasions but has failed to show up, thus hampering the investigation," Enkhtur said at a press conference on 24 July.
The parliamentarian was refused an exit stamp at the airport while on his way to the Democracy and Human Rights Conference in Singapore but was not given a reason. Mongolian law states that only the parliament can withdraw the immunity of its members.
Gundalai denied having any knowledge of the order forbidding his travel abroad and chose to try to pass through border control without the exit stamp, citing his parliamentary immunity. Officers eventually had him removed from the Korean Air jetliner he had boarded and then followed him back into town.
Gundalai was finally arrested at Democratic Party headquarters in a violent skirmish to which the parliamentarian's wife and child were also witness.
"It was a completely illegal arrest," according to Gundalai's lawyer, S. Narangerel, because Gundalai "had not violated any of the legal provisions under which border violations fall."
"He did not cross the border at no-border check point, he did not cross the border furtively, and he did not cross the border with invalid documents. The border stamp is not a document but a stamp," Narangerel charged.
Following his arrest, Gundalai was brought to the Gants Khudag detention center--which is notorious among Mongolian human rights advocates for its poor conditions and routine violations of prisoner rights--but was released the next day after both the Mongolian president and the parliamentary speaker condemned the action.
D. Ganbat, the director of a Mongolian think thank called the Political Academy, said at a 28 July press conference that the fact that the prime minister had not commented on the incident was significant. "It's impossible that an arrest of that magnitude could be done without the knowledge of higher-ups," Ganbat said.
CIVIL LIBERTIES UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Gundalai's arrest has led to larger concerns about the state of civil liberties in contemporary Mongolian society.
Opposition groups cited what they saw as proof of government control of the media as a significant result of the incident.
A Democratic Party demonstration the day after Gundalai's arrest failed to make the news on Mongolian national radio and television, and neither covered the violence that witnesses say attended the initial arrest, though it was front-page news in many newspapers.
"There are many people in the countryside who have no idea of what happened," Political Academy director Ganbat said. "Mongolian national TV and radio have become powerful tools for propaganda. And in this situation of absence of adequate information, it is very difficult to talk about an adequate response from Mongolian civil society to such violations."
According to Ganbat, the incident also highlights the disadvantageous situation of Mongolia's rural dwellers--who make up as much as one-third of the population--due to the lack of wider access to independent media or educational opportunities.
The group of approximately 10 human rights NGOs also expressed their concern over the state of the democratic system in Mongolia at a 28 July press conference.
"This was a serious and frightening violation of human rights and freedoms and a big step back in our democracy," said J. Zanaa, the head of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) human rights NGO. "Those types of violations happen every day to ordinary citizens, but this time it happened to a parliamentarian," Zanaa said.
According to 2002 data released by the National Human Rights Commission, of 1,081 people detained in the first two months of 2000, 57 were detained with no reason given to them. In the first quarter of 2000, 36 were imprisoned without any court decision on their case, and 102 prisoners who had overstayed their sentence were released.
The human rights NGOs gathered at the press conference issued a statement cautioning that police violations of human rights have become a "normal occurrence," with Mongolia fast becoming a "police state."
International reaction to the incident was muted, although the United Nations human rights adviser in Mongolia, Wan Hea Lee, said that international donors were concerned about what had happened.
"I'm happy that at least some of the mechanisms are working: The Prosecutor's Office reversed the action and released the MP," Wan said, adding that "the broader question of what an appropriate framework for democracy should be in Mongolia" should be discussed.