HONG KONG—Chinese police from the northern city of Ordos, in China's Inner Mongolia, have detained the head of a Tibetan medical college outside United Nations offices in the capital of the neighboring independent country of Mongolia, sparking calls for greater protection for asylum-seekers in third countries.
Batzangaa, 35, a Chinese national and ethnic Mongolian who developed a network of traditional Mongolian-Tibetan medical practitioners around the Inner Mongolian region of China, was arrested at the front entrance of the U.N. refugee agency office building in Ulaanbaatar on Oct. 3.
Four Chinese police officers sent from China accompanied by more than 10 Mongolian police detained Batzangaa, his wife Bayanhuaar, and their nine-year old daughter.
"We were in Mongolia at the time," Bayanhuaar said.
"They brought us back from Mongolia [to China]. At the time, they told us it was because we owed someone money because we set up a school of Tibetan medicine, and they were suing us to get it back, that it was 'economic fraud.'"
According to the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), the three were deported back to Ordos municipality in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China, on the same day, with no apparent recourse to Mongolian legal proceedings to challenge the deportation order.
Before leaving China, Batzangaa had set up and run the Ordos Mongol-Tibetan Medical School of traditional Tibetan medicine, and had a series of disputes with the Chinese authorities over the right to maintain the school’s ethnic characteristics, the group said in a statement.
Bayanhuaar and the couple's daughter were released from detention, but were placed under house arrest immediately after arriving at Ordos' Dongsheng district.
Bayanhuaar was notified of her husband's formal arrest by the local authorities Oct. 8.
Batzangaa is being held at the Dongsheng District Detention Center.
"After my husband left [Ordos], he told us that someone might be trying to kill us, and our Internet was cut off at home. So was the telephone line," she said.
"We [applied] for asylum [in Mongolia]."
She said she visited her husband in the Ordos Detention Center Tuesday, and called for his immediate release.
Chairman of Inner Mongolian People's Party Xi Haiming said the Chinese government is anxious to stamp out any cultural ties between Mongolians and Tibetans following ethnic unrest in Tibetan areas of China, which peaked in Lhasa in March 2008.
"I think that this case is very political, because at the beginning of this dispute the authorities were saying that it had nothing to do with money, that it wasn't an economic problem," Xi said.
"They are too sensitive about the use of the word 'Tibetan.'"
Xi said Batzangaa was detained virtually on the doorstep of the United Nations refugee agency in Ulaanbataar.
"He was detained outside the door of the United Nations as he came out of their branch offices to apply for political asylum by Chinese and Mongolian police together. Does the UNHCR [U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees] protect the rights of asylum-seekers or not?"
In 2001, Batzangaa established the Ordos Mongol-Tibetan Medical School in Dongsheng. The school enrolled more than 1,000 Mongolian students who began practicing Mongolian medicine, providing affordable, sometimes even free, medical treatment to poverty-stricken rural Mongolian communities.
Later, Batzangaa also set up the Affiliated Hospital of the Ordos Mongol-Tibetan Medical School with the coordination of Henan County Mongol Tibetan Hospital in Khukhnuur province.
But the authorities put the school under surveillance, alarmed by its growing ties with Tibetans and Mongolians, and canceled the school's land lease, citing "the authorities' suspicion and surveillance towards ethnic minorities" in its official documents, the SMHRIC said.
Xi continued: "There really is no difference between Tibetan medicine and Mongolian medicine. We Mongolians also believe in Tibetan mythology and Buddhism. We are closely bound up with it."
"Under such circumstances, the Chinese Communist Party wants to divide and rule ... Their purpose is hidden, but it's the eradication of Tibetan and Mongolian culture."
Calls to the Ordos police station, municipal education bureau, and Dongsheng district government offices went unanswered during office hours Tuesday.
Original reporting in Mandarin by An Pei and by RFA's Tibetan service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.