An ethnic Mongolian herder-turned-activist from China's northern region of Inner Mongolia says she recently traveled to the regional capital Hohhot to protest against the pollution of traditional grazing lands by a Chinese-invested mining company.
Bao Yu, a resident of Xinhure Som, or village, in Inner Mongolia's Urad Middle Banner, a county-like division, said the land she inhabits has been destroyed by pollution from a nearby mining operation.
"My Name is Bao Yu. I am a herder from Xinhure Som ... in Urad Middle Banner, and I went [to Hohhot] to complain before Chinese New Year, because the local officials always lie to me and send me away again," Bao told RFA.
"They say they will resolve my grievance, but they still haven't done so," she said. "That's why I continued to petition after the New Year."
"This time, I will also be filing a complaint about the gachaa [township ruling Chinese Communist Party] secretary who has taken over the grasslands and has been persecuting local herders," Bao said.
According to Bao, the gold-mining company Taiping Mining has caused serious pollution of the local air and water, causing serious environmental damage to the fragile ecosystem of the local steppe, and leaving local Mongolian herders in extreme hardship.
Local people have repeatedly confronted government officials over the pollution, but to no avail, she said.
Polluted water, air
Bao has been protesting against pollution caused by Taiping Mining since 2006, saying the company is releasing heavy metals directly into local rivers, as well as releasing pollutants into the air.
She said dynamiting and diesel fumes from the heavy machinery employed at the company's gold mine have further polluted the air and the nearby grasslands where herders graze their livestock.
Local herds of sheep and cattle have developed respiratory problems and died after eating poisoned grass, and the sheep's wool has turned dark, rendering it useless, Bao said.
China's 5.8 million-strong ethnic Mongolian community has long complained of widespread environmental destruction, violent evictions from traditional grazing lands, and unfair development policies in the region.
Ethnic Mongolian dissidents Hada and his wife Xinna have repeatedly accused the ruling Chinese Communist Party of a calculated program of ethnic cleansing in Inner Mongolia by destroying herders' traditional way of life.
"There are more than 20 households affected around the Taiping Mining facility in Moren Gachaa," Xinna told RFA. "Overall, Moren Gachaa is home to more than 100 households of herders, making a total population of nearly 3,000 people."
Repeated calls to the Xinhure Som government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
Lack of consultation
United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston was highly critical of the local government's lack of consultation with ethnic minorities regarding economic development that affects them following his 2016 trip to China.
The United States Congressional Executive Commission on China noted with concern the frequent detention of ethnic Mongolian herders who engaged in peaceful protests related to the use of their grasslands, including those who voiced their concerns online or talked with foreign reporters about their complaints.
It called on U.S. lawmakers and officials to support Mongolian, Uyghur, and Tibetan minority groups working to improve human rights, environmental protection, economic development, and rule of law in China.
They should also "call on the Chinese government to allow ... herders to exercise their fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, as well as the right to be free from arbitrary detention," the report said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.