Chinese Police Detain 17 Ethnic Mongolians As Grasslands Protests Spread

2015-06-10
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Inner Mongolian herders gather in protest over seizure of grasslands, in undated photo.
Inner Mongolian herders gather in protest over seizure of grasslands, in undated photo.
Courtesy of an RFA listener.

Chinese authorities in the troubled region of Inner Mongolia have detained at least 17 people following separate protests by ethnic Mongolian herding communities over the loss of their traditional grazing lands, a U.S.-based rights group said.

Protests have recurred in Tulee Gachaa, Mingren Som (or township) near the region's Tongliao several times since early May over the loss of large tracts of grassland to a Chinese-run forestry company, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC) said in a statement on its website.

Local herders have lost access to some 4,000 hectares of their traditional grazing lands to the Xinglonggao Forestry Co. since 2011, SMHRIC director Enhebatu Togochog told RFA on Wednesday.

"The Chinese government's so-called restricted summer grazing policy has come into effect, and they won't let the herders graze their animals," he said.

"They can't pasture their herds on their own grazing lands."

He said the government had sent police and officials to enforce the ban.

"They sent people to the grasslands to round up cattle and sheep, and to fine the herders," Enhebatu Togochog said.

Eight Tulee Gachaa residents detained following similar clashes last month in an unknown location have yet to be released.

They are being detained for disrupting public order, their families have been told, but are being denied any visits, SMHRIC said.

In the east of the region, herders in Zaruud Banner clashed with grasslands management officials in a similar standoff in which one herder was beaten up.

The herder, named Buyan, was beaten unconscious by officials, after more than a dozen police vehicles arrived at the scene of the herders' protest on June 3, SMHRIC said.

Buyan is still receiving emergency medical treatment in the Zaruud Banner People's Hospital, it said.

Meanwhile, some 100 Mongolian herders from Urad Middle Banner in the west of the region marched gathered in the Banner's main town of Haliut in protest last week over the seizure of grazing land for mining.

Video of the protest shows police rushing to the scene and carrying out arrests, during which police detained a herder known as Xiaolong, SMHRIC said.

"We went to petition [last] Thursday," a resident of Urad Middle Banner told RFA on Wednesday. "The police detained [Xiaolong] and we don't know how long they will hold him for."

"He is an old man of 70, and they say he went to the government to make trouble and shout abuse," she said. "That's why they detained him."

She said herders from her community have lost access to some 1,200 mu (80 hectares) of grazing land in the past decade or so, and that local people have been evicted from their traditional homelands without compensation.

"We even tried to bring a lawsuit, but the court threw the case out," she said.

An officer who answered the phone at the Urad Middle Banner police department on Wednesday declined to comment.

"I don't know about this," the officer said.

The clashes come after repeated attempts by local communities to bring their grievances to the attention of central government in Beijing.

Last month, authorities detained five herders from Naiman Banner who traveled to Beijing with similar complaints, escorting them back to their hometowns and detaining them there.

On May 28, police detained three protesting herders after more than 100 Mongolian herders representing 40 some households from Gegeen-engger Village of Guilestei Gachaa in Bairin Right Banner in the east of the region blocked a construction site on national highway 303 that was running through their grazing lands.

More than 40 police used electric batons and pepper spray to attack protesters, with many injured and one hospitalized in the crackdown, SMHRIC said.

"Among the many beaten up, one woman suffered from severe bleeding and was hospitalized," the group said. "Four other herdswomen were injured."

It said police had confiscated cell phones used to take pictures and videos of the scene.

Five protesters were detained on May 31 in Ar-Horchin Banner for helping to organize a sit-in on grasslands confiscated by the local government in a dispute over some 94,000 hectares of grassland that began in 1997.

Germany-based ethnic Mongolian activist Xi Haiming, who is known as Temcheltu in Mongolian, said local people have seen no compensation for the loss of their livelihood to government interests.

"More than 200 herders from Baiyun Som in Ar-Horchin Banner near Chifeng city have seen their land taken over by the government, with no compensation," Xi told RFA on Tuesday.

"There were clashes with police, and five people were detained," he said. "They still haven't been released."

He said ongoing exploitation of natural resources by Chinese companies is damaging the fragile ecosystem in the region.

"The environmental damage isn't being caused by grazing, because Mongolians have been doing this for thousands of years with no problem," Xi said.

"The real reason is the huge influx of ethnic Han Chinese people into Inner Mongolia, and the collusion between government and business that leads to the illegal exploitation of mining resources," he said.

"These are the root causes of pollution."

In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, so herders have little redress when it comes to safeguarding their own grazing rights, Xi said.

Reported by Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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