IFJ Condemns Jail Term for Mongolian Editor Over HIV-Aids Report

The jailing of a newspaper editor in Mongolia over an HIV-Aids report that led to a brutal killing was "an extreme and inappropriate response to a grave professional error" says the International Federation of Journalists today.

The editor of the Mongolian daily newspaper, Ug ("Word"), B. Hand-dolgor was jailed for a year for publishing false information that led indirectly to the death of a woman incorrectly named as a possible HIV-Aids victim. "This is a grave professional error that has had dramatic and tragic consequences, but it is an extreme and inappropriate response to treat it as a criminal offence," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ.

On 31 July 2002, a court in the Sukhbaatar district of the capital, Ulan Bator, sentenced the editor to prison after she was found guilty of libel under the Criminal Law. On 5 March, her newspaper carried an article deploring the spread of HIV-Aids in Selenge province, on Mongolia's northern border. A woman was named in the article as infected with HIV-Aids and who had a large number of sexual partners.

However, a health check by officials found her HIV-negative. The editor published a full front-page apology that appeared on 26 April, but on 18 May, the woman named was beaten to death by one of her lovers, who had demanded proof that she did not have HIV-Aids.

"This case shows that the ethical principles of journalism - respect for the truth, independent reporting and awareness of the consequences of our actions - need to be followed at all times," said Aidan White, "but when things go wrong, it is not appropriate to turn to the criminal law, that will only lead to new and pernicious threats to freedom of expression. In this tragic case, the editor made amends and responded to the mistake in a professional manner. It is the responsibility of the authorities to make sure that the people involved are given protection."