Mongolia: ecologist gets 21 years for ‘terrorism’

Mongolian ecology activist Tsetsegee Munkhbayar, who was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2007 for his campaign to protect water sources from mining pollution, was sentenced on Jan. 21 together with four associates to 21 years in prison each for "acts of terrorism." Munkhbayar was arrested on Sept. 16 at a protest in front of the parliament building in Ulan Bator during which a firearm was discharged. Security officials also allegedly found an explosive device in a nearby building. While stating that it does not condone violence, the Goldman Prize asserts that "it is widely understood that the shot was not fired on purpose and nobody was injured." The protest was called by Munkhbayar's "Fire Nation" movement to oppose a new government contract with French company Areva to revive uranium exploration in the Gobi Desert, which traditional heders say has led to death and deformities among livestock. Mongolia's parliament is considering a bill to loosen restrictions on a hard-won environmental law that prohibit mining in the headwaters of rivers and other sensitive areas.

It is unclear if Munkhbayar himself was among those carrying weapons at what some accounts described as an "armed protest." Enkhbat Toochog of the US-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center said: ”Munkhbayar’s actions highlighted the desperation of helpless Mongolian pastoralists, who had no choice but to resort to an unconventional approach to defend their land, rights and way of life after exhausting all other means.” (SMHRIC, Jan. 28; Climate Connections, Jan. 21)

The law the Mongolia's parliament is now preparing to gut, the Extraction Law on River Basin and Forested Areas, was passed in 2009 following a wave of protests over destructive and virtually unregulated gold mining in the watershed of the Onggi River. (Grist, April 25, 2007; Rivers Without Boundaries)