Parliament approves law in a few days and undermines freedom of speech!

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On January 20, Parliament adopted a new Law on Protection of Human Rights on Social Media, which will come into force on February 1.  

What concerns everyone except for the Mongolian People’s Party members and supporters is that this whole new law was not in the knowledge of the public until January 17, yet it’s already adopted and will become effective shortly.  

The opposition, the Democratic Party (DP), left the parliamentary plenary session and decided not to be a part of illegitimate lawmaking. The leader of DP caucus in Parliament requested Speaker of Parliament G.Zandanshatar for an adjournment for five days, however, the speaker allowed the adjournment only until noon on the same day.

Minister of Digital Development and Communications N.Uchral posted on his Facebook page on January 16, “I believe that it is right to have a law to protect human rights on social media.” On the day after, Deputy Minister J.Erkhembaatar was interviewed by the Mongolian National Broadcaster and stated that the ministry is working on the draft law on protection of human rights on social media platforms. Following these statements, everyone, especially media outlets and civil society organizations representatives were very keen to see the draft of this new law. Yet, Minister N.Uchral submitted the proposal of the law to the speaker on January 18, with the prime minister’s request to discuss and pass the law with the emergency procedure. What a rush!

In accordance with Clause 18 of Article 14.1 of the Act of Parliament and Article 21.1 of the Law on Parliamentary Session, the prime minister may request the speaker to discuss a draft law with the emergency procedure if it’s related to ensuring the economic dimensions of national security. However, the prime minister and his cabinet failed to prove what are their ground and justification for the request. But the speaker doesn’t seem to care, therefore, accepted the prime minister’s request without any question. MPP does have some previous experience in adopting amendments to laws within one to three days, including what they called “an amendment to the Constitution” which they initiated, discussed and approved within the same day. In 2019, they also amended the Act of Parliament in order to dismiss former Speaker of Parliament M.Enkhbold and amended the Law on the Legal Status of Judges which was followed by the suspension of 17 judges within a few days.

This time, MPP adopted a whole new law within three days. Representatives of civil society organizations and the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia expressed their opinion against the law being adopted within a few days without any discussion in the public at all.

Minister N.Uchral explains that this law must be adopted urgently because people, especially children are the victims of crimes and infringements on social media platforms.

I believe we all agree that it could be not a bad idea to have some regulations for illegitimate content on social media platforms. This new law does have regulations that are safe to support such as restrictions on contents that are violating others’ rights and legitimate interests. On the other hand, experts argue that it’s already regulated by the terms of services of the platforms, and we don’t need the state to step in. Because freedom of speech is one of the main and most important pillars and safeguards of democracy and it’s not a good idea when the state or government is spreading their options to limit people’s content on social media platforms.

Yet, it’s safe to say that the government, or in particular, the ruling party – MPP will use this law to restrict content on social media platforms with critiques against them when it comes to the next parliamentary election expected in June 2024. For instance, Deputy Minister J.Erkhembaatar said that the ministry will establish a unit to examine if the content violates this new law or terms of services of the platforms upon request(s) of users. He further said that this new unit will send demand letters to social media companies to take down contents or ban accounts which they found the content violates the said law or terms.

In accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations provides that freedom of expression includes the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

On the contrary, international laws and organizations do agree that there may be some conditional limits to the freedom of speech but only “as are provided by law and are necessary or respect of the rights or reputations of others and or the protection of national security of public order, or of public health or morals” as specified in the General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI).

This newly adopted law mentions establishing a new unit within the ministry called the “unit in charge of public communication” as well as what they called the “green channel”. From the law, it’s understood that the “unit” shall examine the content and the green channel shall be the one who will communicate with the companies running the social media platforms. Yet, there is no clear regulation or text included in the law regarding how the ministry will ensure the inclusivity of all the stakeholders of the subject matter. Thus, this attempt of the Mongolian government to limit the freedom of speech on social media platforms and monitor the contents does not fulfill the requirements for the said provisions on limiting the freedom of speech.

Another issue with this law is that the government proposed other “relevant” laws to be amended along with this new law. For instance, Articles 23.2 and 25.2.14 were amended under which the Council of Cyber Security shall be able to shut down internet and mobile networks based on the initiation of the minister of justice and internal affairs when there is a possibility of public disorder or occurrence of “special circumstances”.

In conclusion, this was such a shock for everyone. All the issues that Minister N.Uchral mentioned during the parliamentary session for the discussion of this new law were mostly related to criminal and infringement procedures. For instance, he mentioned that time is of the essence when content violating one’s rights and privacy is posted online. However, this should be and could be regulated by developing the criminal and infringement investigation procedure codes.

As we almost every day discuss and criticize the abuse of power by the government and the ruling party, there is no guarantee that the government will abuse its power when implementing this new law. And we, the citizens and the civil society organizations, had zero chance to ensure the guarantees against such abuse of power in the law because the process of making this law did not follow any of the applicable procedural regulations for lawmaking. It’s for sure that this law and the procedure of how this law was adopted shall be challenged by the Constitutional Court of Mongolia.

Myagmardorj Buyanjargal
Myagmardorj is a freelance writer and certified translator who holds a Bachelor of Law Degree from the National University of Mongolia and Bachelor of Science Degree in engineering in mining technology from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology.