Mari Valdur is a PhD student at the University of Helsinki, Finland. She is currently carrying out her fieldwork looking at reproductive healthcare, gender and personhood in Ulaanbaatar
The Publicity of Non-Global Tragedies
While the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements elsewhere largely remain linked to the rights of individual women, in Mongolia, the mainstream movement against violence started in autumn, 2017, with an emphasis on the need to protect children and the responsibility, concern and emotionality of being a parent. The social and news media has been central in giving voice to the emotion-laden stories so they can reach the wider public, where they have provided a platform for people to also advocate for justice.
Surprisingly the onset of the Mongolian movement cannot directly be paralleled with #MeToo – at which core lies the Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein’s long-term sexual harassment and abuse empire revealed in The New York Times’ article in October 2017. Instead, it carries similarities to the extensive international media coverage of other assault and violent deaths reported in August 2017. In that summer month, which usually tends to be somewhat uneventful in media terms, the international media reported extensively about the case of Kim Wall who disappeared after boarding Peter Madsen’s submarine in the Danish waters and the gruesome detail of her death that came to fore as weeks passed. There were several other stories repeatedly highlighted, such as the disappearance of the nine-year-old Maëlys de Araujo from a wedding in the French Alps; and seeking of court approval by the parents of a 13-year-old girl in India for their daughter to be allowed to have a late-term abortion after being raped.
The beginning of the movement against violence in Mongolia aligned with the start of a new school year after a girl was found dead in a hotel. Having gained ground primarily as mothers’ fear for their children, and ‘children being Mongolia’s future’, it soon moved onto including discussions of domestic violence. Like #MeToo, hashtags #NudeeNee (#OpenYourEyes) were adopted, but the extensive circulation of these hashtags has often been overtaken by other strands of the movement.
The Advocacy of Fear, Anger and Suffering
The following chronology looks at a range of causes that were advocated for as part of the broader anti-violence topic; And how these could been seen as having given rise to one another but also created lines of division.
1 February 2017. The current Law to Combat Domestic Violence came to force making domestic violence a punishable legal violation.
1 September 2017. The news breaks about the death of a 13 year-old girl whose body was found at a Bayanzurkh district hotel in Ulaanbaatar on 23 August. She was found with signs of violence, including sexual assault, with a fatal blood alcohol content that is later released as the cause of death by the officials. The girl’s father T. Lhagvasuren appears in the media to describe what he saw when entering the hotel room. CCTV shows that she had been picked up from a bus stop by two men. The news on television addressing this spark considerable fear, concern and compassion in parents.
October 2015. Cases of sexual assault against young children are addressed in the media. Lhagvasuren’s daughter’s case is first expanded to a scandal and later to a movement when the rape of boy younger than two years is reported. Another core story involves a 5 year-old girl who was sexually assaulted by her stepfather, taken to the emergency room and is initially turned away due to the lacked of 10,000 tugrik service fee (around £3 or 3.5EUR). In December the stepfather is sentenced to 18 years in prison. Drawing on statistics, domestic violence is given attention as the main context in which child assault takes place.
16 October 2017. Mongolian President Kh. Battulga starts working towards re-establishing the death penalty in connection to the reported crimes, providing validation and a certain outlet to anger and discontent that the reports have given rise to. The removal of capital punishment from the Criminal Code had come to effect only in July 2017.
24 and 26 October 2017. Lantuun DOHIO, a NGO established in 2012 that carries out different activities against human trafficking and domestic violence and abuse, organises two NudeeNee (OpenYourEyes) demonstrations in Ulaanbaatar. Shortly after they also create a Facebook group for the campaign that is extremely active in the last months of 2017. #NudeeNee and #OpenYourEyes are used on social media.
13 November 2017. Lhagvasuren provides an in depth account on the talk show Tsenzurgui Yaria surrounding the death of his daughter. He refutes the defamatory accounts of his daughter that had started to spread and describes the unfolding events during the past months and the lagging of the whole process in the justice system. The extreme level of distress that he reveals in this interview indicates ongoing processes of victimisation and trauma beyond the criminal act itself in a situation where democratic processes of jurisdiction and prosecution are presumed to be in some correlation with the pressures and attention to the case created by publicity.
18 November 2017. There is another Nudee Nee demonstration on Sukhbaatar Square, which is significantly bigger than the first two.
27 November 2017. President Kh. Battulga addresses a letter to the Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs proposing the restoring of the death penalty in cases of sexual violence, cruelty and murder of young children, linking it directly to the scandals of the past months.
Winter 2017-2018. Outdoor events come to a halt, while discussions continue online and in the news media.
8 March 2018. International Women’s Day, which is also celebrated as Mother’s Day in Mongolia. A march takes place that advocates more directly for women’s rights drawing obvious parallels to the international women’s movement.
16 March 2018. Bolortuya (Beverly) Dorjsuren, a woman in her 30s, goes public with the story of a severe assault on her on 8 March that left her injured and temporarily unable to work. She posts on her Facebook timeline and the post is shared 569 times reaching the existing anti-violence groups. In the coming weeks she appears on television and social media sharing her struggles concerning the stalling of her case. Talking to Bolortuya more than a month after the attack, it becomes obvious how advocating for her case to be taken seriously and pushing for progress with it has taken over her everyday life, adding to the stress and cost of her on-going treatment. Unlike many other women who she encountered at the emergency room and police department, she acknowledges that she is in a position to do be able to do this due to her stable financial situation, support of her family and her professionally respected platform.
21 March 2018. Odgerel Chuluunbaatar establishes Huuhdiig hüchirhiilliin esreg taivan jagsaaliin alban yosnii grupp (The Official Group for Peaceful Demonstration Against Child Abuse) on Facebook. Only about a month later on 23 April 2018 it has 416,691 members. Odgerel, who has a son herself, says she created the group in reaction to increasing child abuse ahead of a demonstration the following week. She invited six other mothers to join her moderating the group and did not expect such explosive online following. None of the moderators of the group are linked to the Nudee Nee movement and advocate only against child abuse.
30 March 2018. The president compiles a draft law on the death penalty to decrease and tackle violence against children. The Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs Ts. Nyamdorj has not responded to the president’s proposal to restore the death penalty sent in November. Deputy Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs B. Enkhbayar comments at a meeting with the representatives of the Delegation of the European Union to Mongolia that the ministry has not found a legal basis for this.
31 March 2018. The largest demonstration to date addressing violence against children, No More Tolerance (Dahin Tevchihgui) takes place. It is accompanied by aggressive exchanges online about the death penalty, creating division and making some worry that the gathering could become violent.
9 April 2018. Directly unrelated to the movement, 3333 students wearing deels recite the poem Independence (Tusgaar togtnol) on Suhkbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar as the president attends the event.
25-28 April 2018. Lantuun DOHIO in collaboration with Gallery 88 showcases clothes of victims worn at the time of their assault, artwork, personal belongings and audio at an exhibition What Were They Wearing? (Ted Yuu Omsoj Baisan Be?) taking a personal and intimate approach to individual stories and portrayal of violence. Meanwhile, also in April, Lhagvasuren’s daughter’s case is still on-going; Bolortuya continues to post on social media, get treatment and add to the number of her visits to the police department; And the number of members of The Official Group for Peaceful Demonstration Against Child Abuse Facebook group is slowly decreasing.
The Exhausting Ways of Justice
This chronological review presents a handful of events that lead towards a brief and non-conclusive outline of the unfolding the recent anti-violence movement. This movement instigated a sudden rise of public interest and involvement of those who were previously not actively advocating against violence. Therefore, it has not done justice to the important efforts of organisations that continuously work toward moving forward the legal and discourse machine.
The freedom of press is shown to be problematic in today’s Mongolia owing to private ownership and links to politically active figures (see 5 May 2018 Defacto Review). However, it is curious how heavily the ideas of democracy and law enforcement remain linked to the sourcing of public knowledge of, and attention to, the particular cases. This is done through sharing one’s struggles on television or via other media, however taxing it may be. The speed of trials is presumed to be linked to the position of defendants: if they belong to wealthy and influential families there can be quite a lot of stalling and confusion with the validation of pieces of evidence, which become relaxed in their interpretative qualities during prosecution, similarly to what Lhagvasuren describes in the interview concerning the reason of his daughter’s death.
The attention to and discussions of law enforcement have been somewhat overshadowed by the emotion-provoking and releasing appeals for re-establishing the death penalty as well as false news on the existing law of punishment. While the Criminal Code could use certain updates and additions, this becomes a secondary focus in this context, where these laws are not implemented properly, or only eventually through other lanes of victimisation for those involved in lengthy legal processes.
This post was written in early May 2018. For an alternative perspective and a high-profile rape allegations case against a Mongolian MP, D. Gantulga, please see Lily Kuo’s article in The Guardian.