Interview with freed environmental defender Beejin Khastumur

In late August we received the news that Mongolia’s Sonignokhairkhan District Court has dropped all charges against environmental defender and YLNM member Beejin Khastumur.

(DMNN members protect illegal mining operations in Ulan Bator, December 2015. Photo: DMNN)

(Beejin (third from left) and other DMNN members protest illegal mining operations in Ulan Bator, December 2015. Photo: DMNN)

This decision marks an end to 6-months of stress and uncertainty for Beejin and his family after he was arrested, imprisoned and then tried for a crime he did not commit.

Catch up on Beejin’s struggle here.

We couldn’t be more delighted that justice has been served, and that Beejin, who has dedicated himself to protecting Mongolian lands and water from illegal mining, will remain a free man.

This week, we caught up with Beejin to find out how life has been since the trial; his plans to continue protecting Mongolia’s lands and waters; and how international solidarity from YLNM and other allies around the world played a decisive role in securing his freedom.

 

Beejin, how do you feel now that you’re a free man?

I didn’t realise how much it (the trial) drained me until after the trial. I can breathe freely now.

Do you still feel you were imprisoned and persecuted because of your work to stop illegal mining?

If it (the incident for which Beejin was imprisoned) was just a regular accident, it would have been resolved a long time ago. But they made it more than just an accident. Throughout this ordeal, some police officers and prosecutors were acting as though they were siding with the instigator and their intention was to put me away, which made me think that I was being framed for my activism and criticism of some government officials.

Why are you so passionate about stopping illegal mining? Why is it worth the risk of persecution and imprisonment?

I have four children. When I see all the damages being done to the forests, mountains, rivers and lands by the illegal activities of these mining companies, my heart breaks and I feel very guilty for my children and the next generation. We use water as much as we want, breathe fresh air, eat quality food, but will they be able to when they are older? That question bothers me so much. Once a river dries up, it can never run again. That’s the end of it. This damage is irreversible. That’s why I want to stop these mining companies that are violating the Mongolian environmental laws.

How did international solidarity help you during your trial?

The trial took place under the close observation of many international organizations, so it went very fair. Of course, the solidarity and support of the international community helped me so much. If it weren’t for them, the results would have been very different. I wouldn’t be sitting here. They helped me financially, emotionally and psychologically. They gave me confidence most of all that justice will prevail.

Does you think this solidarity also helped to free you by putting the Mongolian authorities under pressure?

I am sure the solidarity helped to free me. The solidarity also proved that we can overcome any obstacle to protect our nature. The pressure the authorities received was something they couldn’t just ignore.

What is next for you and your organization, DMNN? Do you plan to continue your campaign against illegal mining?

DMNN will continue its campaign against illegal mining. During the last four years the Democratic Party was in power and the environmental laws were violated so much. People from this party were in many key positions. It was hard to fight against them. But this year the People’s Party took over, so we have to see how they will function. Based on their policy, we’ll have to decide our campaign strategy. When the government itself supports and sides with the mining companies, their illegal operations, it makes the NGOs’ work that much harder and difficult. We end up risking so much of our health, freedom and reputation.


Thanks from YLNM

We would like to thank everyone who sent letters, phoned embassies and spread the word of Beejin’s plight on social media. Also to the amazing organisations and networks we collaborated with to help give Beejin’s case the visibility it needed.

In addition to Beejin’s own testimony, in an email sent after Beejin’s trial, our friends in Mongolia wrote to tell us about the major impact of our solidarity efforts:

“The letters and emails from you all to the court, General Prosecutor and President made a very big difference on the way the trial was conducted. We cannot thank you enough for your support, solidarity and dedication. Without your support, the result would have been different.”

Supporting brave individuals, like Beejin, who are standing on the frontlines of struggles against the extractive industries is one crucial way in which we can work for a world free of predatory extractivism.

It’s also crucial to celebrate and reflect on our victories, so we can learn new lessons and nourish our movements with positivity.  Help us do that- please share this article!

Thank you again!

The YLNM Coordinators

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