A prominent Mongolian activist has been handed 10 years in jail after condemning his country's close ties with China, his lawyer said Wednesday, drawing criticism from rights groups.
Landlocked Mongolia is dependent on its giant neighbours Russia and China for trade and mineral exports, but there have been protests in the capital Ulaanbaatar over Beijing's restrictive language policy in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia.
Munkhbayar Chuluundorj was arrested in February as part of what campaigners have said is a wider effort to "clean up" Beijing's critics in Mongolia.
He was sentenced at a court hearing in Ulaanbaatar last Tuesday, his lawyer Baasan Geleg told AFP, on charges of "collaborating with a foreign intelligence agency".
Prosecutors claim he collaborated with an Indian intelligence agency based at the Indian embassy in Mongolia to work against China.
His lawyer dismissed the charges as false.
"I don't agree with the court decision and I will appeal to a higher court very soon," Geleg told AFP.
Shortly before Chuluundorj's arrest, he had called for the Mongolian prime minister to resign over his close relationship with Beijing.
He also loudly campaigned for the rights of an estimated 4.5 million ethnic Mongols in the neighbouring Chinese region of Inner Mongolia.
They have been subject to government repression after a widespread protest movement against language reforms in education was met with a harsh police crackdown in 2020.
Critics say this mirrors moves in other Chinese areas such as Xinjiang and Tibet to assimilate local minorities into the dominant Han culture and eradicate minority languages.
"The main reason behind this case is China interfering in other countries' internal affairs," said Baljinima Bai, a language rights advocate originally from Inner Mongolia.
The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre, a New York-based NGO that advocates for the rights of ethnic Mongols, quoted family members concerned about Chuluundorj's apparently declining health.
"He was hospitalised for two weeks recently... his meals consist mostly of animal organ stew," his brother Munk-Erdene Chuluundorj was quoted as saying.
A representative of the NGO, Enghebatu Togochog, told AFP the verdict was "total nonsense".