Dozens of ethnic Mongolian protesters gathered on Monday outside Chinese government offices in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, demanding the release of detainees after mass protests erupted over a land dispute.
Farmers and herders from more than a dozen villages in Horchin Right Front Banner, to the northwest of Ulanhot city, then faced off with police outside government buildings on Tuesday, herders told RFA.
"About 3,000 people went there yesterday, but the banner government called in the riot police to suppress us ... and they detained between around 10 and 20 people," a herder who asked to remain anonymous said.
"The police used an electric baton to shock one woman and set off a heart attack, and she had to be taken to hospital by ambulance," he said. "Then they started arresting the men, and the riot police moved in [and attacked us]."
"There are still some people receiving treatment in hospital," he said.
"Quite a lot of people went to the banner government today, too, calling for the people to be released."
Video of one standoff seen by RFA showed a uniformed police officer shouting at a crowd outside government buildings: "I'm not letting you through! I'm not letting you through!" before protesters and police tussled with each other, shouting and screaming.
And footage shot by a passing motorist showed several uniformed police officers gathering round and beating someone with batons after the person fell to the floor amid a fleeing crowd.
Dispute over payouts
The protests come after a dispute with a major insurer over payouts following the drought of 2016.
Herders and farmers had been expecting compensation of 500 yuan per mu (0.06 hectares) of land, and 300 per mu for corn maize crops blighted by the drought.
But the insurance company had paid out only 40 yuan per mu, and the government refused to get involved, sources told RFA, adding that the payout didn't cover investment made in seeds and fertilizer for the crops, leaving local people sustaining serious losses.
"People have been going to the government about the 2016 insurance situation since March 7," a Horchin Right Front Banner herder said. "To start with, they wanted nothing to do with it, neither the banner government, nor the [higher-level] league government."
"So the local people demanded a response from the banner government, who refused to tell us when we'd get our money," he said, adding, "But the missing money was embezzled by the leaders in our townships and at the banner level."
"We can shout about this injustice, but it doesn't do any good."
An employee who answered the phone at the Horchin Right Front Banner government on Tuesday hung up the phone immediately when contacted by RFA.
Call for unconditional release
Veteran ethnic Mongolian dissident Hada called on the local government to release the protesters unconditionally.
"The farmers' demands are justified, but the authorities refuse to do anything about it," Hada told RFA. "Instead, they mobilize large numbers of police to beat people up and detain them."
"I heard that they have detained more than a dozen people, and I strongly condemn this violent incident," he said. "I call on the authorities to release all detainees ... and to address the fundamental problem."
Germany-based ethnic Mongolian activist Xi Haiming said local people rely on insurance to make it through the leaner years.
"When times are hard, they can't survive," Xi said. "When the farmers get into difficulties, the state should guarantee them a basic subsistence-level income."
He said the ruling Chinese Communist Party has a number of policies that look good on paper, but that are rarely implemented on the ground.
"What the party says sounds great, but they don't deliver on it," Xi said. "The local-level officials are just siphoning off that money, embezzling it."
Second protest in weeks
Monday's clashes were the second major protest in recent weeks, with more than 1,000 local people gathering outside government offices on March 27.
The protests prompted the government to send officials out to meet with herders and farmers and to persuade them to disperse, sources said.
China's 5.8 million-strong ethnic Mongolian community have long complained of widespread environmental destruction, violent evictions from traditional grazing lands, and unfair development policies in the region.
Hada and his wife Xinna, both veteran activists on behalf of ethnic Mongolians in China, have said the routine eviction of herders from their traditional grazing lands, often in the name of ecological protection, is part of a calculated program of ethnic cleansing by the Communist Party in Inner Mongolia.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.