Goldman Prizewinner Sentenced to 21 Years for Resisting Foreign Mining, State Corruption, and Genocide in Mongolia

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Tsetsegee Munkhbayar, a Mongolian activist working to defend indigenous herder nomads from the effects of mining operations, was sentenced to 21 years and six months in prison, along with five other leaders from the Mongolian environmental and human rights coalition Fire Nation, Keith Harmon Snow reports. The leaders were arrested while protesting the government’s failure to keep mining in check and plans for dismantling for indigenous land protections. Many have labeled what’s happening to the nomads as genocide.

Mongolia first opened up to mining in the early 1990s after it transitioned away from being communist, and government corruption has been fueled by the profits from mining. Despite a 2009 law that limits where mineral exploration and mining operations are permitted, mining companies have flouted the law with impunity, resulting in destruction of indigenous pastureland, watersheds, and the rapid erosion of indigenous livelihoods and culture. The Fire Nation coalition sought to call attention to the corruption through peaceful protest and symbolic violence (e.g., they shot arrows at the Parliament building with herders’ bows).

In September 2013, the government proposed amendments to weaken the 2009 law, prompting a mass protest by Fire Nation. Munkhbayar and ten other protesters were arrested, supposedly in response to the firing of a rifle (though video evidence showed that security had already tackled protesters when the shot was heard). Civil society leaders declared that state agents framed the protestors. Four protesters were released, but on January 21, 2014, Munkhbayar and five others were sentenced. During their trial, evidence was suppressed and facts were ignored. The six were interrogated in harsh conditions in detention cells. The same day as the sentencing, the parliament passed tax law amendments to reduce taxes on gold mining companies.

In 2007, Munkhbayar was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for work defending the planet and indigenous peoples. However, the Goldman Fund increasingly distanced themselves from Munkhbayar, the more he stood up for Mongolia and its peoples’ rights. The Asia Foundation, which had lobbied the Goldman Fund on his behalf, called him a “terrorist.” Both the government and media in the country have portrayed the activists as terrorists. NGOs believe other methods, such as the deliberate currency devaluation, have also been used to demonize them.

Source: Keith Harmon Snow, “The Bare Naked Face of Capitalism: Goldman Prizewinner Gets 21 Years for Resistance to Genocide,” Salem News, February 6, 2014,

Student Researcher: Noah Tenney (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)