Former Mongolian intelligence chief faces torture charges

Khaliun Bayartsogt
Mongolia's former intelligence chief is on trial accused of ordering the torture of two people who confessed to murdering the leader of a 1990 democratic movement

Mongolia's former intelligence chief goes on trial next week accused of allowing the torture of two people later convicted of assassinating the leader of a 1990 democratic revolution.

Khurts Bat, the ex-head of Mongolian intelligence, is charged with overseeing the torture of Sodnomdarjaa Batdagva and Chimgee Tumurkhurd, who were jailed in 2016 after confessing to murdering Zorig Sanjaasuren.

The trial is not open to the public and details are scarce as the trial of a political figure is seen as a state secret in Mongolia.

Khurts was first charged in April, but released pending trial two days later. If he is found guilty, Sodnomdarjaa and Chimgee could then challenge their own convictions.

Zorig was a pro-democracy revolutionary on the verge of being named as the country's new prime minister, when he was stabbed to death in 1998 in what was widely believed to be a political assassination.

It took until 2015 for any arrests to be made for his murder following a long and sprawling political investigation that saw over 1,500 people interrogated as suspects -- including at one point Zorig's wife, the only witness to the attack.

The case against Khurts emerged after videos of Sodnomdarjaa and Chimgee apparently being tortured were shown on national TV in May.

In one video, Sodnomdarjaa is seen being beaten and spat on, then forced to do push-ups and squats before a bucket of his own urine is dumped on him while interrogators yell "Confess!"

Chimgee was a mother-of-three aged 29 in southern Dornogobi province in 1998 when Zorig was murdered, while then 23-year-old Sodnomdarjaa was at a farm 400 kilometres (250 miles) away from where the assassination took place.

Their convictions were based largely on the word of a convicted murderer, Amgalanbaatar Tsevelmaa, who was already in prison for killing a cab driver when he confessed to killing Zorig, and said Chimgee and Sodnomdarjaa were his accomplices.

Rights groups say the pair have been subject to harassment and violations of their human rights since they were first arrested in 2015.

Chimgee's brother told AFP a corpse was thrown into the family's yard after her arrest, shortly before her 27-year-old daughter died in a car crash.

Since being imprisoned they have been reportedly held in cells without water or sanitation, often prevented from seeing their families for months at a time.

According to Amnesty International, Chimgee and Sodnomdarjaa's human rights and access to a fair trial have been "violated and limited in the name of state secrets".

Nine government officials are also alleged to have been involved in the torture of Sodnomdarjaa and Chimgee, although few details have been made public about their cases as they also fall under the state secrecy blanket.