Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia have detained two ethnic Mongolian herders on public order charges after they repeatedly lodged petitions over the actions of local officials and companies in their hometowns.
Wang Yatou and Toyaa of Ulaanhad village were detained by police in Inner Mongolia's Zaruud Banner, a county-like division, on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," activists said on Thursday.
"Wang Yatou and Toyaa of Zaruud Banner were detained yesterday, under criminal detention," ethnic Mongolian rights campaigner Xinna told RFA.
"Toyaa was in Beijing but she didn't venture out to Zhongnanhai," she said, referring to the headquarters of the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Tiananmen Square, where a separate group of ethnic Mongolians was also detained this week.
"They issued a notice of criminal detention to her family yesterday evening," Xinna said. "Wang Yatou was at home, but she was also detained."
"They are cracking down really hard right now on ordinary people who petition the authorities," she added.
Wang's son Hasbirig said his mother was sitting at home on Tuesday night when the police came.
"On the night of March 27, my mother was at home when four officers came round from the local police station," he said. "They told her to come down to the government, and then at about 7.00 p.m. yesterday, the police called me to say that she had been detained."
Wang's family has now received the detention documents, he said.
"The police in ... Zaruud Banner said that she is under criminal detention on suspicion of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble for multiple petitioning trips," Hasbirig said. "
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, increasingly complain of widespread environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.
Clashes between Chinese state-backed mining or forestry companies and herding communities are common in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.
But those who complain about the loss of their grazing lands are frequently targeted for harassment, beatings, and detention by the authorities.
Wang Yatou and Toyaa were among a group of herders from Zaruud banner who lodged petitions in the regional capital Hohhot last December, but were prevented from approaching the complaints department of the regional government, they told RFA at the time.
Toyaa was reporting the illegal destruction of the environment and residents' property in her home village, citing official corruption at local level.
Wang has been seeking compensation after her son drowned in a ditch illegally dug by a company in her village.
Both women have previously been sentenced to six months' imprisonment, also for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," in relation to their complaints.
A resident of Ulaanhad who asked to remain anonymous said Toyaa had served one month of her sentence before being released on bail, on condition that she stop petitioning.
But Toyaa hadn't complied, and had subsequently returned to Beijing to pursue her complaint, he said.
Sent back from Beijing
Meanwhile, authorities in Beijing detained a group of eight herders from Urad Middle Banner in the early hours of Tuesday morning, sending them back to their hometowns under the escort of "interceptors" from the local government, law enforcement officials hired to deal with petitioners, Xinna said.
Sharentuyaa, Dabushilat, Bao Yu, Alatengawa, and four others were detained outside the front gates of Zhongnanhai, she said.
"They were intercepted and escorted home on March 27," Xinna said. "If local governments would actually serve the people with the same alacrity that they arrange for them to be intercepted, these problems could all be resolved."
Bao Yu, a resident of Xinhure village, has been pursuing a long-running complaint against gold-mining company Taiping Mining, which she says 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.
Bao says the company is releasing heavy metals directly into local rivers, as well as causing air pollution with dynamiting and diesel fumes from the heavy machinery employed at the company's gold mine.
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, according to Bao, who has been petitioning about the problems since 2006.
Herder Munkhurig of Urad Middle Banner's Bayinulaan village, who was among the group that traveled to Beijing, said he has been petitioning for 18 years over the loss of traditional grazing lands to development, blaming corrupt local officials. He said local herders have received no compensation.
"I was detained close to Zhongnanhai, and eventually an official from where we live came and confiscated our ID cards," he said. "We are in a guesthouse now, but we're not allowed to go anywhere."
Xinna said Inner Mongolian officials have leased large numbers of rooms in hotels to use as temporary detention centers for local people who petition in Beijing.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.