A prominent dissident from Inner Mongolia facing deportation from neighboring Mongolia, where he has lived in self-exile for more than two decades, has threatened to self-immolate rather than accept a forced return to China, a U.S.-based rights group said Monday.
Alhaa Norovtseren, known as Wen Xin on his Chinese passport, told the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) that he would set himself on fire in protest if made to return to China, where he said ethnic Mongolians are persecuted by authorities for trying to assert their rights.
“I am ready to set myself on fire and die if they move forward with the deportation order, because China is no better than hell,” SMHRIC quoted Alhaa as saying in an emailed statement.
“I will be happy to become the first Southern [Inner] Mongolian to self-immolate for the freedom and human rights of Southern Mongolians not only in Southern Mongolia but also here in Mongolia.”
Ethnic Mongols in China’s Inner Mongolia have long complained that mining and desertification are destroying their traditional grazing lands, and that the government has forced them to settle in permanent dwellings in defiance of their herding traditions.
Alhaa, a native of Sunid (in Chinese, Sunite) Left Banner in China’s Inner Mongolia, has lived in Mongolia since traveling there to study in 1992 and obtained his permanent residency in 1994 after marrying Mongolian citizen E. Undarmaa, who died of cancer four years ago. He has a 19-year-old daughter, Nandintsetseg.
In an open letter to Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj published last week, Alhaa wrote that he hadn’t left Mongolia since 1999, had never violated any law or committed any crime, and had renewed his residency card on time.
“Yet, on May 5, 2014, the Mongolian immigration authorities gave me short notice ordering me to leave Mongolia voluntarily in 10 days or else I will be forcibly deported,” Alhaa said in the letter, calling on the president to halt the deportation order.
According to SMHRIC, on May 9, at least three Inner Mongolian exiles and three Mongolian citizens were also taken away by Mongolian police and secret service personnel for hosting and attending a press conference opposing Alhaa’s deportation.
When contacted by the rights group, Alhaa said that he was convinced “the only reason why they are trying to deport me is that I am a Southern Mongolian,” and that Mongolian authorities were bending to the will of Beijing, which was targeting him because of his anti-China activism.
“It is an indisputable fact that all these [actions] are done under the order of the Chinese government … because I have been anti-Chinese from my heart since I was born,” he told SMHRIC.
“People around the world might think that Mongolia is a democratic country. Unfortunately, democracy is dead here … like it or not, it is a fact that Mongolia, a presumably independent nation, now has become a de facto province of the People’s Republic of China.”
Alhaa said that while Mongolian immigration authorities had temporarily suspended his planned deportation, “that doesn’t mean a thing.”
“The police and secret service can come and deport any Southern Mongolian any time if there is an order from the Chinese authorities.”
In Alhaa’s letter to President Elbegdorj, he also detailed what he referred to as an illegal detention by Mongolian police on Jan. 17 last year, during which he said he was severely beaten.
During Alhaa’s detention, a police officer named Z. Batbayar telephoned the police station in the border city of Zamiin-uud and asked them to travel to China to gather information about him, the letter said.
“After that a burly man in plain clothes came in and beat me up severely while cursing me ‘you hybrid bastard of a dog and wolf, you are hurting the friendly relationship between Mongolia and China’,” Alhaa wrote, adding that “he threatened to kill me after the severe beating.”
“Since this beating I have been suffering from deteriorating eyesight and a severe headache,” he said.
Most Mongolian citizens have been supportive of the Inner Mongolian community despite the government “act[ing] like a Chinese puppet in violating the human rights of Southern Mongolian exiles without any hesitation,” Alhaa said, expressing gratitude to those who made efforts to defend him from being deported.
SMHRIC said that Alhaa’s beating and possible deportation marked at least the third major case of Inner Mongolian exiles suffering persecution at the hands of Mongolian authorities since 2009.
In October 2009, Batzangaa, the principal of a Mongol-Tibetan medical school from Inner Mongolia’s Ordos region, was deported to China while he was still under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and imprisoned in Inner Mongolia Jail No. 4, the group said.
In May 2012, another Inner Mongolian exile and historian Rolmaajidiin Tsengel was arrested and jailed in Mongolia on alleged charges of “attempt to overthrow the government of Mongolia and conspiracy of a coup.”
SMHRIC said that Inner Mongolian communities and exile groups in Japan, the U.S., and in various European countries plan to hold protests in front of Mongolian embassies if Alhaa’s deportation order is not rescinded.
Meanwhile, SMHRIC said that authorities in Inner Mongolia were on high alert in the lead-up to the May 10 anniversary of region-wide protests over exploitation of ethnic Mongolian grasslands and herders' rights in 2011.
The group said that a text message sent by the Chinese Public Security Bureau or State Security had been circulating in major schools and colleges in the region, warning against potential student protests.
“Recently, the Inner Mongolian Internet surveillance authorities discovered that an organization called ‘Inner Mongolia Youths’ is planning to carry out an activity called the ‘May 10th Night March of Blue City’ on the evening of May 10 at 5:30 p.m.,” the text message read.
“For the sake of personal safety of all students, the schools must not allow students to go outside school campuses on Saturday and Sunday. Participating in the activity is strictly prohibited.”
SMHRIC said that a later version of the notice stated that the “organization called ‘Inner Mongolia Youths’ was created in Inner Mongolia by overseas hostile forces” and urged students to stay within their school campuses and to participate in the activities organized by their respective schools.
Information the group received from students and teachers at colleges in the Inner Mongolian capital Hohhot confirmed that security was extremely tight on campuses and that students had been forced to join unscheduled campus activities such as sport contests and art performances during the weekend.
Additionally, SMHRIC said that Chinese authorities also prepared to crack down on any potential mass protests in public outside of campuses by holding a series of anti-terrorism drills across the region.
On May 10, a wave of protests across the Inner Mongolia region was sparked by the death of a herdsman from the Shiliin-Gol (in Chinese, Xilin Meng) area following clashes over mine pollution between herding communities and mining company truck drivers.
During an ensuing region-wide crackdown, authorities confined thousands of students at major schools, colleges, and universities in the regional capital to campus.
Experts said the protests reflected a deep and widespread anger over continuing exploitation of the region's grasslands, the heartland of Mongol culture.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's 23 million population, complain of destruction and unfair development policies in the region, which is China's largest producer of coal. The overwhelming majority of the residents are Han Chinese.