Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia have detained 12 ethnic Mongolian herders amid a protest over the building of a highway across grasslands in the Shiliin-gol League in the west of the region.
The 12 herders from Shuluun Hoh banner to the south of the regional capital Shiliinhot were detained on May 21, as local residents blockaded a highway construction site on their grazing lands, which they graze under a 20-year government lease.
"We were sitting down in front of their vehicles so they couldn't move," a local herder told RFA in a recent interview.
"The grasslands are collectively leased by the herders. This is our land," he said. "They want to build a highway, and we tried to stop them."
"So the banner government sent in the riot police and armed police, who detained people," the herder said, adding that one of his relatives is being held on a seven-day administrative sentence, which police can hand down without a trial.
He said authorities had told local people the road would be built regardless.
"That's when they started detaining people, as we were sitting there," the herder said.
He said 14 people were detained at the scene, while two were released later.
"They told us we'd get compensation, but we don't know who they compensated," the herder said. "We haven't [seen any money]."
A second herder at the scene said herders had gathered at the banner government offices to demand the release of the detainees, which officials had refused to arrange.
"We have been here demanding their release ever since ... they just met with us," the second herder said. "But we haven't had any reply."
He said the government seemed to be focusing only on suppressing further protest.
"They just use their power to suppress people, and to make sure they don't kick up a fuss," he said. "We don't agree with [this highway], but they just force it on us anyway."
"They won't even let us have what's ours."
Local sources said the herders are grazing the land under a 20-year responsibility contract that has yet to expire.
Elsewhere in the region, police in the Darhan Muminggan United Banner detained dozens of protesting herders after they showed up outside the banner-level government offices on Tuesday in protest at nonpayment of government subsidies.
"More than 50 people went this morning," one protester told RFA. "Herders from Darhan Muminggan near Baotou went to demand their subsidies outside the banner government."
"They said they have given us various subsidies because of the ban on grazing, but they haven't paid them; they are just playing for time," the herder said.
"We still haven't had any result from the banner government, who have done nothing," another herder told RFA. "The herders have been petitioning and protesting, but the government just sends in the police to detain people."
"They have let it drag on for so long without resolving it."
One woman who was among those detained said that she was briefly held and later released.
She added: "The police are monitoring [the smartphone app] WeChat so you can't post anything in there."
"I can't even open it, and they confiscated my smartphone," she said. "I only got that back today."
Repeated calls to the Darhan Muminggan banner government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
Reported by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Chan Siu-po for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.