Chinese riot police in the northern region of Inner Mongolia attacked and beat local herders after they shut down a water pipe supplying a local mine amid a dispute over pollution, according to a New York-based rights group.
"On June 25, the ... government mobilized more than 50 riot police and attacked the protesters," the Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) said in a statement.
"Many herders were beaten severely and taken away by police," the group said. "Their health condition and status are unknown."
The reported clashes come in the wake of large-scale protests by herders and students across Inner Mongolia last month, triggered by the killing of two herdsmen in standoffs with mining company staff.
The latest protest was sparked on June 11 in Bairin Left Banner (in Chinese, Bali Zuoqi) near the city of Ulaanhad (in Chinese, Chifeng.)
Herders were protesting against the Bayannuur Lead Mine, which had been built on a large plot of former grazing land, and which they said had discharged large amounts of toxic waste into the area, damaging the health of humans and livestock, and devastating the local environment.
"After repeatedly petitioning the Township and Banner governments expressing their concerns regarding the danger to their environment and health with no satisfactory response, on June 24, 2011, frustrated herders marched to the area of the mine and shut down the mine’s water pump to shaft No. 6," SMHRIC said.
The following day, riot police converged on their village, it said.
Treatment of Mongols
SMHRIC spokesman Enhebatu Togochog said that the root of the problem, though environmental in nature, lay with the treatment of ethnic Mongols by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"The Chinese government has ignored the rights of ethnic Mongols for too long, and now the Mongolian people cannot take it any more," he said.
"[Their] way of life and means of earning a living have come under serious threat," he said.
He called on Beijing to end the destruction of the Mongolian homelands, the grasslands.
"They should return the right to use the land and water resources there to the Mongol people, and stop eroding the basis for their traditional way of life."
Retired U.S.-based university professor Zhu Yongde said the international community is concerned about "mass incidents" involving ethnic minorities in China.
"On the one hand this is an ethnic issue, and on the other, it's an environmental one," Zhu said. "China has come in for considerable criticism on both these counts internationally."
"China is supposed to be the world's worst polluter," he said. "Anyone who goes to China now can see that something is very wrong with the air pollution."
'Atmosphere of fear'
Germany-based Xi Haiming, chairman of the Inner Mongolian League for the Defense of Human Rights, said controls remained tight at universities and in cities around the region as the Communist Party celebrated its 90th anniversary on Friday.
"Ethnic Mongols in Inner Mongolia are still very angry," Xi said. But he added: "The current atmosphere of fear makes it hard for them to be able to speak out."
In the wake of May's protests, China sentenced one mining truck driver to death for the killing of herdsman Murgen, at the same time pouring large numbers of troops into the region and enforcing a security lock-in at schools, universities, and government institutions.
Official documents described the protests by thousands of ethnic Mongols in the region's major cities as the work of "external hostile forces," although it made no mention of where those forces originated.
Reported by Bi Zimo for RFA's Cantonese service and by Yang Jiadai for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.