Authorities in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region have blocked and assaulted hundreds of ethnic Mongolian herders who were trying to travel to Beijing to stage protests over land disputes at a meeting of the national legislature, according to a rights group.
In the first of two incidents to take place last week, hundreds of herders from Inner Mongolia’s Durbed (in Chinese, Siziwang) banner (county) gathered at Hohhot train station on March 1 to march nearly 500 kilometers (300 miles) to the nation’s capital, but police arrived and broke up the gathering, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) said.
They then forced the protesters to return to their homes, SMHRIC said in a statement Wednesday.
“Led by the banner government officials, the local Public Security personnel arrived in Hohhot to stop the herders from visiting Beijing, preventing them from making an appeal to the National People’s Congress regarding their concerns,” the statement said.
“The herders were threatened and taken back to the Banner. Several were physically assaulted by the police dispatches for refusing to follow the order to return home.”
According to reports received Wednesday by SMHRIC from the affected herders of Durbed, 1,767 herders from 470 households had recently been displaced as they were forced to give up their land for the expansion of the Beijing Military Command’s Zureh Military Training Base.
The base, which is the largest of its kind in China, already occupies around 1,000 square kilometers (390 square miles) of the best grassland in Inner Mongolia, according to SMHRIC.
An official document issued by the Durbed government on Nov. 28, 2011 states that the relocation project was carried out in the interest of “national defense” and “social stability,” and pledged a number of benefits and compensations before displacement began, but herders say no adequate solutions have been implemented.
China is preparing for its transition to a new generation of leaders under incoming president Xi Jinping at the annual National People's Congress session in Beijing and security has been particularly tight in the lead-up to the meeting.
In a similar case, around 40 Chinese police and security personnel in a dozen police vehicles descended on Halgait village in eastern Inner Mongolia’s Zaruud (Zhalute) banner on March 2, breaking up another group of herders who intended to march to the county government and on to Beijing to protest the confiscation of their grazing land by local officials.
SMHRIC quoted a resident from Halgait village named Tsengelt as saying that the local government had illegally occupied nearly 40,000 mu (6,600 acres) of grazing land and sold it to a number of Chinese companies without the consent of the local Mongolian herders.
“Two major Chinese mines, namely Lu Huo Coal Mining and Yi Cheng Coal Mining are particularly active in destroying our land and violating our rights. They dump their sewage directly onto the grassland, and brutally beat us herders,” Tsengelt said.
“In 2006, more than 200 people from Yi Cheng Coal Mining came to beat us brutally. Sixteen herders were seriously injured and hospitalized,” he said.
Last year, he said, more than 30 herders had been arrested and detained for more than a week by the Public Security Bureau for protesting the mining operation.
Another herder from Halgait, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the banner government was planning to displace the entire village in April to make way for further mining operations.
“We have lived on this land for generations. We will not move to anywhere, and will resist any form of relocation,” the herder told SMHRIC.
“In fact, we are planning to launch a banner-wide herders’ resistance movement against mining and land appropriation.”
SMHRIC said that additional protests by Mongolian herders had been reported recently from other townships in Zaruud banner, including Bayanbulag, Doloodai, and Gerchuluu.
Internet posts about the two events last week had been removed from blogs and social media, the group said.
A Beijing-based activist named Yu Guofu was accused of being an “anti-revolutionary” and threatened with arrest by local authorities in Zaruud banner for posting information online about the Mar. 2 incident.
SMHRIC called the two movements an “organized response to the ongoing governmental appropriation of their grazing land for military purposes,” adding that herders in Inner Mongolia have been “continuously displaced” without adequate compensation.