The United States should demand that Mongolia, the only functioning democracy in Central Asia and a close U.S. ally, respect its citizens’ legal rights amid a crackdown on political opponents, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on the House floor Monday.
Feinstein said she has been in contact with the State Department and Vice President Biden’s office throughout the weekend as the health of imprisoned former President Nambaryn Enkhbayar took a turn for the worse. Enkhbayar was released on bail Monday morning so he could get medical help following a hunger strike.
The former president from 2005 to 2009 was arrested last month by an anti-corruption agency after taking the head of a new political party due to compete in parliamentary elections next month.
“Certainly, to say the least, the bringing of charges against a political leader in the midst of an important election campaign is, to say the least, unusual,” Feinstein said. “We need to press for due process in the adjudication of his case and ensure he is afforded his full rights.”
“To do less would be to reinforce fears that the process employed here is politically driven and meant exclusively to remove Mr. Enkhbayar from participation in the parliamentary election now underway.”
Feinstein’s defense of Enkhbayar comes two days before a Senate panel is scheduled to vote on President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Mongolia, Piper Anne Wind Campbell, giving Congress some leverage on the issue.
Here’s her full statement from Monday morning:
“I am pleased President Enkhbayar has been released on bail so he can receive the medical treatment he so desperately needs. It is my hope he will be able to clear his name from the so-called corruption charges and continue his campaign for election to the parliament.
“Under the leadership of President Enkhbayar, Mongolia saw substantial democratic gains and the signing of a Millennium Challenge Corporation pact with the United States. It has been deeply troubling to follow the way in which he has been treated: summarily detained and unable to see his lawyers or family members in private on a regular basis. He has not been convicted of anything and the allegations against him have been deemed by one of his attorneys to be ‘insubstantial, stale and petty.’
“Mongolia is a nascent democracy, and for any democracy, due process and the rule of law are essential. In my view, the former president’s jailing was to prevent him from running for parliament, and I am hopeful that is he is well enough to continue his campaign.”