A popular Buddhist leader and advocate for herders’ rights in China’s Inner Mongolia region is in failing health following his arrest on charges of “fraud,” a rights group said on Monday.
Yunshaabiin Seevendoo, who was detained for a month before being formally arrested on July 4 for the “crime of fraud,” is being held in the Right Ujumchin Banner [county] Detention Center and denied visitation rights, according to the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC).
The group said family members are concerned about the deteriorating health of Seevendoo, who had frequently clashed with Chinese authorities over his efforts to organize ethnic Mongolian herders to uphold their rights to collective ownership of threatened grasslands.
Interviewed by phone, Seevendoo’s wife Hongmei told SMHRIC that she had been shown an arrest warrant “without any further details of the alleged crime,” adding that she and the couple’s children had been allowed to visit him only once since he was taken into custody.
“I am really concerned about his health,” Hongmei said.
“He had a serious kidney problem and had been in medication until his arrest. The condition at the detention center is terrible, and he has no access to any medical treatment.”
“During my visit last month I noticed his health was deteriorating,” she said.
SMHRIC said that Seevendoo’s activities promoting herders’ self-organization and self-empowerment and his outspoken criticism of the Chinese authorities’ “illegal” land expropriation had put him at high risk for harassment and retaliation from local officials and the government.
Beginning in 2008, Seevendoo had worked to help ethnic Mongolian herders request Certificates of Collective Land Ownership “to defend their grazing lands collectively from government and corporate encroachment,” the group said.
“Inner Mongolia’s grassland is suffering from the worst environmental rampage in history,” Seevendoo told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post in an interview last year. “Fear won’t save us,” he said.
“The invaders charge like wolves when we’re afraid but scatter like rats when we’re angry,” Seevendoo told the Post.
“It’s time to fight back.”
The newspaper said that Seevendoo had been previously arrested for “compiling, printing and distributing illegal publications,” though these were only pamphlets of Chinese laws translated into the Mongolian language.
The report also referred to his direct confrontation of local officials and mining company representatives who attempted to seize the Mongolian herders’ grazing land.
Herders 'unaware' of rights
According to China’s Land Law, Inner Mongolia’s grasslands “should be, and mostly had been” divided among self-governing pastoral communities called gachas, the Post said in a July 19, 2012 report.
“It was just that the Mongolian gacha chiefs, themselves herdsmen, had never been told, and were therefore entirely unaware that they owned the land,” the newspaper said.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia’s population of 23 million, frequently complain of environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.
On Aug. 19, Bayanbaatar, a Mongolian herder, was beaten to death by Han Chinese railroad workers while protesting the occupation of grazing lands.
He was at least the fifth Mongolian herder to die amid altercations over grazing land in recent years, including one who committed suicide in July after stabbing to death the head of a local “livestock grazing prohibition team.”
In 2011, the death of herder Murgen, who was run over by a worker driving a coal-hauling truck while protesting the destruction of grazing lands by a mining company, triggered weeks of demonstrations by herders and students across Inner Mongolia.