Rally against foreign mining in Mongolia, while leading activist detainedPublished by MAC on 2016-03-30
Source: Statement, AP (2016-03-30)
Arguments over the benefits of mining, which dominate the Mongolian economy, have once again come to the fore in the relatively poor, land-locked country. (For an earlier example see Mongolia: "Resource Nationalists" make June electoral gains).
Much of the ire is focussed on Rio Tinto's $5.4 billion Oyu Tolgoi project (for a previous article on MAC see: The impact of mining on Mongolian herders).
Meanwhile, a leading environmental activist, Beejin Khastumur, concerned about the damage from mining has been detained in jail on allegedly flimsy charges. International support groups are calling for his release. See: http://www.yestolifenotomining.org/call_for_release_of_beejin_khastumur/
Thousands Rally in Mongolia Over Foreign Mining Concessions
By Associated Press
30 March 2016
ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia — A rare public protest in Mongolia's capital on Wednesday drew thousands of demonstrators who criticized foreign mining concessions and demanded action to prop up the tottering economy.
More than 2,000 demonstrators in Ulaanbaatar's Freedom Square also called for parliament to be dissolved and a new government formed over alleged corruption and the economic crisis battering the vast, landlocked nation.
Protesters say the mineral wealth that accounts for 94 percent of the nation's exports has been exploited by foreign companies, with few benefits going to Mongolia's 3 million people, one-third of whom live in poverty.
"Our wealth is shipped outside of the country. Where is that money going?" former wrestler and opposition lawmaker Battulga Khaltmaa asked the crowd assembled by an umbrella group of small political parties and civil society organizations known as Ethical Mongol.
Battulga was particularly critical of the terms extended to Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto PLC to develop the $5.4 billion Oyu Tolgoi copper mine. Talks on expanding the mine have bogged down over the government's demand for more revenue.
Battulga and others also criticized efforts to revive the Tavan Tolgoi coal project, alleging that members of around two dozen influential families with ties to both ruling Mongolian Democratic Party and opposition Mongolian People's Party stand to benefit the most from the deal through their ownership of shares in the Hong Kong-listed Mongolian Mining Corp.
"This business-political group ... has already swallowed its brother, democracy," said Erdenechimeg Luvsan, a Democratic Party lawmaker.
Protesters carried banners reading "Tavan Tolgoi is public property" and "Whatever happened to democracy?"
Parliament last year blocked a proposed deal with an international consortium led by Chinese state-owned mining company Shenhua and Mongolian Mining Corp. and Japan's Sumitomo.
New parliamentary elections are scheduled for June, but critics say the rules will ensure re-election for lawmakers with mining interests in both the ruling and opposition parties.
The global slump in commodity prices has pummeled Mongolia's economy, impoverishing thousands of former herders who had moved to its few cities looking for jobs. China, which receives almost 90 percent of Mongolia's exports, also has an economy that is slowing sharply, further eroding demand for copper, coal and other exports. Foreign investment in the country has practically disappeared.
Economic growth is set to fall below 1 percent this year, down from 17.5 percent earlier in the decade.
Protesters also criticized the arrest by Mongolia's anti-corruption body of several of Battulga's associates, saying it was politically motivated.
Leader of NGO Opposing Illegal Mining in Mongolia Arrested
The following statement from Yes to Life, No to Mining’s Mongolian member group DMNN describes the arrest and incarceration of Beejin, DMNN’s Leader.
Yes to Life, No to Mining have documented how Beejin and other DMNN staff have been subjected to intimidation, death threats and physical violence for their work investigating and protesting illegal mining operations in Mongoli (see: http://www.yestolifenotomining.org/mongolia-ylnm-members-suffer-threats-and-assault-for-investigating-illegal-mining/)
We denounce the arrest of Beejin and the manner of his detention. We call for his immediate release.
On February 6, 2016, Beejin, head of DMNN, was driving on the far left lane on Peace Avenue heading west when a Nissan sedan with a license plate number 28-28 UNO, tried to pass him on the wrong side, twice, and eventually hit his vehicle.
Both drivers stepped out of their cars and checked their vehicles. Small amounts of paint were removed in the bumpers of both cars. The other driver, a man by the name of Byambatsogt attacked Beejin for allegedly ‘hitting’ his car, hitting Beejin several times in the head and chest and kicking him. To block himself from further hits, Beejin held Byambatsogt against a fence until a traffic policeman arrived.
The policeman told Beejin to stand there and took Byambatsogt into his car. They talked for five minutes in the police car. The policeman came out of his car, didn’t make any measurements or notes, just said it was Byambatsogt’s fault and took both of their drivers licenses and insurance details and left.
The other driver, Byambatsogt, then called the criminal police and claimed that Beejin had beaten and stabbed him with a knife. One police major and staff sergeant responded to this call and decided to take them to the nearest police station.
Before they left, Beejin demanded that the policemen should search him and his car because the allegation involved a knife which is a considered a weapon. The policemen ignored his demands and brought both men to the 1st precinct of Songinokhairkhan District Police Department.
Whilst at the police station both of men explained what happened. Then the officer on duty assigned a detective named Lkhamsuren, who wrote down what happened. Beejin once again demanded that they did a search on him, his car and the scene, to prove there was no knife. But again his demand was ignored. The police sent both men to a Forensic clinic to get examined and told them to return in the morning.
During the forensic examination, it was discovered that Beejin had many bruises on his chest and legs and brain concussion. The other driver, Byambatsogt, had a centimeter-long scratch above his one knee. Byambatsogt, who was imprisoned in 1985, 1990, 2006 and 2010 for violent assaults with a weapon under Article 181.3, claims that Beejin scratched him with a knife. Since the incident Byambatsogt has tried to paint Beejin as a hard core criminal, spreading all kinds of rumors on social media.
The next morning, Beejin came to the precinct and waited for the detective. After a long wait he was finally able to talk about the incident. Once again he asked the detective to do an investigation at the scene of the incident, which is covered by three street surveillance cameras. Again Beejin’s request was ignored. The presiding police captain and Detective Lkhamsuren never did an inspection of the scene or proved that the scratch was caused by a knife allegedly in Beejin’s possession.
During the next month, Beejin was called to the police precinct several times to be questioned. On March 10, 2016, a month after the incident, the detective told Beejin that he was charging him under Article 181.3 of the Criminal Code of Mongolia, which corresponds with “a crime committed using a weapon or by a violent criminal, the sentence is five to eight years of imprisonment”.
Beejin held a press conference in his office on March 11, 2016 where he talked about the incident and how the police were trying hard to label and paint him a criminal and put him behind bars for no reason.
On March 16th 2016, Beejin was incarcerated in Gants Khudag, a temporary detention center notorious for the abuse, violence and torture of the detainees. Beejin’s attorney has filed for his release with a Mongolian court, but he remains in custody and at serious risk due to pre-existing health problems including high blood pressure and bad kidneys.
Beejin and his organization, DMNN have exposed many violations of Mongolia’s environmental laws by foreign and domestic mining companies, in which Mongolian politicians have a stake. In the past he was verbally and physically abused and assaulted by both mining company representatives and the Mongolian police.
For his efforts to protect his country and its serene nature from greedy companies, Beejin has been targeted and now thrown in jail.
Click here for more details on the intimidation and violence suffered by Beejin and his DMNN colleagues - http://www.yestolifenotomining.org/mongolia-ylnm-members-suffer-threats-and-assault-for-investigating-illegal-mining/