Tom Malinowski: Punishing Journalists with Criminal Law is Unacceptable

This is the transcript of the interview with the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of the Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Mr. Tom Malinowski by Editor Odbayar S. that was published on on May 5, 2015.

O: We have here is our guest Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of State in charge of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Welcome.

M: Thank you.

O: So, my first question would be on your participation here at the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC). Mongolia is hosting first out of the Asian countries. Your thoughts on that?

M: Mongolia has been a leader amongst Asian countries on democracy and human rights issues for a long time. Chaired the Community on Democracies and now the FOC, and it’s something that we deeply appreciate. This is what makes Mongolia stand out. This is Mongolia’s comparative advantage that it’s willing to stand up for the rule of law, for democracy, for the values that connect Mongolians with people from all over the world. It certainly distinguishes Mongolia from some of its big neighbors. And I think it’s going to be good for the country on the long run.

O: As of your thoughts or insights, will this participation of Mongolia and hosting this event here in Mongolia be the bridge or close the gap for other Asian countries to enter the coalition?

M: I hope some more will enter. It takes a leader for others to follow. And I think Mongolia has done that successfully in the past and we will certainly encourage more Asian countries to take a stand for online freedom. It’s interesting, there are governments in the region, like the Chinese government, that don’t believe in these principles but the people of their countries believe in these principles. People in China, people in any country want free access to information. They don’t want to be told you can’t look at this website or you cannot say this on a blog or chatroom. And I think, whatever their governments say what Mongolia is doing, what U.S. and all this countries are doing. People throughout Asia support that.

O: Back on FOC, the participants are calling back to human rights, basic human rights that this needs to be protected – online as if it’s offline. As you’re in charge of human rights back in the States, what do you foster on this matter, for the other participants? Because the America is the country of democracy itself and it protects the human rights.

M: We come to the FOC and countries agree on a set of principles, including the most important one which you mentioned. That online freedom should be the same as the offline freedom. And when we find countries that violate those principles, we speak out. We call for the release of the activists or others who are imprisoned for expression online, because they been blogging or tweeting or were saying thing the governments don’t like. We have been pushing back against efforts by some countries to try to bring the internet under the control of governments. We think the internet should not be under anybody’s control. It should respond to users, the citizens, to ordinary people around the world. It should not be regulated by the governments. And that is the fight we have in the UN and other multilateral forums. And the members of the FOC are united in that effort.

O: Yesterday, you held a press conference regarding the day of the freedom of journalists. In that regard, your personal observation on Mongolia – how do you see Mongolia in that regard?

M: Mongolia has come a long way in 25 years, but it still has some work to do. There are still some laws and practices that are, frankly, leftover from the old era. And one thing we have asked the Mongolian government to look at is the use of a criminal defamation laws to prosecute journalists who are accused of defaming a public official. We really think that those kinds of disputes should be handled, if there are lawsuits of any kind, it should be civil. Not criminal. People should not go to jail because of a dispute about whether an article on newspaper or on a blog is true or not.

O: In that regard, about the legal document. We only have approved a legal document back in 1998. The submission of the new is still postponed. How this should be addressed, by the government itself or by the civil society?

M: By legal document, you mean?

O: The law, the new law on press.

M: I think these things sometimes take time. What is important that Mongolia is moving in the direction of greater freedom, greater democracy, and greater respect for the rights that Mongolia has championed around the world. It is not our place to say exactly how it should be done in Mongolia. That is up to Mongolian civil society and Mongolian people. But we have encouraged the government to make this change.

O: What would be the recommendations of the one of the countries that is having one of the best practices?

M: Our recommendation is that there should be no criminal defamation. Every country has good media and bad media. Every country has truth and falsehood in the media. The best way to deal with that problem, for the media community itself, is to come together, develop strong standards and to police those standards between their own community. So, I think you have put a lie about me on one of your publications. Then I can file a complaint with say a strong media council, they can look at who is right and who is wrong, and make a decision. Or, if I really feel I have been wronged and I can prove that you are lying then maybe a civil suit. But you should not go to jail just because I disagreeing with something that you have written. That is important.

O: Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Also thank you for having a time.

M: Of course, thank you.