Update: Mongolia president says no to death penalty

By GANBAT NAMJILSANGARAV, Associated Press Writer Ganbat Namjilsangarav, Associated Press Writer – Thu Jan 14, 1:28 am ET
ULAN BATOR, Mongolia – Mongolia's president announced a moratorium on the death penalty Thursday, a move that rights groups welcomed as a step toward changing Mongolian law to ban executions permanently.

Many in the opposition-held parliament, however, withheld their applause in protest of President Elbegdorj Tsakhia's speech, a sign that making a lasting change could be difficult.

While the power to commute any death sentences rests with the president, changing the law would require help from Mongolia's opposition-dominated parliament. Mongolia's legal system follows the former Soviet legal system, and many lawyers and legislators favor harsh punishment for criminals.

"The majority of the world's countries have chosen to abolish the death penalty. We should follow this path," Elbegdorj said.

"From tomorrow, I'll pardon those on death row," he said. "I suggest commuting the death penalty to a 30-year severe jail sentence."

Changing the law is "clearly a harder step," Roseann Rife, the deputy program director for Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific office, told The Associated Press. "It involves a lot more people, and the opposition party has control of the legislature."

Mongolia's minister of justice and internal affairs, opposition lawmaker Nyamdorj Tsend, called the speech a risky political move.

"The president's moratorium on the death penalty is a very complicated matter," he told Eagle TV.

Rife said Elbegdorj has commuted at least three death sentences since taking office in May, but added that if he is not re-elected after his four-year term, Mongolia's stance on executions could change "just like that."

Information on the death penalty is a state secret in Mongolia, and it is not clear how many people the country has executed or when the most recent execution took place. The office of Amnesty International Mongolia says at least five people were executed in 2008, and nine people were thought to be on death row as of last July.

Elbegdorj cited a couple of cases where appeals courts overturned death sentences and dropped the cases altogether. If the cases had not been overturned, "the Mongolian state would have killed innocent citizens," he said.

According to Amnesty International, 95 countries have banned the death penalty, but 58 — including Mongolia — continue to use the death penalty for ordinary crimes. Other countries execute people only in extraordinary cases, such as crimes under military law, or have not executed anyone in at least 10 years, the group said.

Countries that continue to execute people include China and the United States.

Execution in Mongolia is by gunshot to the back of the head. The death penalty does not apply to women or to men under the age of 18 or over 60.

Before Thursday's announcement, Mongolia had been considering changing its criminal code to limit the death penalty to cases of assassination and premeditated murder. Currently, the eight crimes that get execution include treason, espionage and certain cases of rape.

An Amnesty statement released Thursday said families of those executed in Mongolia are not told before the execution, and bodies are not returned to the family.

It said conditions on death row are reportedly poor in the impoverished country. One-third of Mongolia's 2.7 million people live below the poverty line.

Source:Associated Press News Agency
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