Chinese authorities in Inner Mongolia have beaten and arrested dozens of ethnic Mongolian herders preparing to travel to Beijing to protest forced eviction from their traditional grazing land, a rights group said Friday.
Nearly 100 public security officers detained 38 herders from Zaruud (in Chinese, Zhalute) banner (county) as they waited for a train at the station in Tongliao on July 15, New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) said in a statement.
The herders planned to hold a public protest in the Chinese capital over their forced eviction from grasslands near Zaruud’s Khan-Uul (Hanshan) Forest Area and what they say was a poorly planned resettlement program.
“The 38 Mongolian herders, mostly female, represented the entire displaced herders’ community of the Khan-Uul forest area,” SMHRIC said.
“All of their train tickets, cell phones and other belongings were confiscated before they were taken away by the Public Security personnel. Those who resisted were beaten up.”
SMHRIC quoted a fellow herder from Zaruud as saying that the group was still in detention at the Tongliao Municipality Public Security Bureau Detention Center, and that “no family members are allowed to visit them.”
“When asked to give a legal explanation, the Public Security people told us that the herders need to be ‘educated’ and are being ‘educated’ in the detention center,” said the herder, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Authorities forcibly relocated around 183 herder households from the Khan-Uul Forest Area to the capital of Zaruud, Lubei, in September 2008 for the purpose of creating a “nature reserve,” SMHRIC said, citing an appeal letter dated March 18 and signed by the residents of the affected community.
According to the letter, which was posted online by U.S.-based Mongolia News, authorities had promised to provide the evictees with employment opportunities, adequate housing and other benefits, but never followed through on their pledge.
“We were forcibly relocated to Lubei Township abandoning our cozy nest behind. Yet, we don’t even know whose property we are thrown into. How can we make a living and survive in the city,” the appeal read.
Ownership of the housing provided to them is in question and the building they were relocated to is of inferior quality, it said.
Use of land
The group also expressed concern that authorities were inviting companies to open up the confiscated land near the Khan-Uul Forest Area in the name of development for the purpose of generating profits.
“The Banner Government promised, after we move off the land, to make the Khan-Uul Forest Area a ‘no man's land’ where farming, livestock grazing, baling hay and any illegal activities are strictly prohibited,” the letter said.
“However, currently some miners have already entered the area and unscrupulously opened up mines,” the herders said, asking “how can you call this type of area a ‘nature reserve’?”
The herder who spoke with SMHRIC said this kind of forced eviction “is how the authorities kick us Mongolians out of our ancestral land and put their own Chinese people [there] to occupy our land forever.”
SMHRIC said that based on a November 2011 announcement on the website of the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources, which lists the Zaruud Banner Khan-Uul Forest Area Polymetallic Ore Inspection Project as one of “21 key projects in 2010,” the herders concerns appear justified.
In the announcement, Tongliao Municipality Party authorities exhort relevant parties to “speed up and complete the detailed inspection as quickly as possible in consideration of starting the mining operation by the end of next year .”
Chinese authorities in resource-rich Inner Mongolia frequently face off with herders angered over the confiscation of their traditional lands.
In March, authorities blocked and assaulted hundreds of Mongolians who were trying to travel to Beijing to stage protests over land disputes at a meeting of the national legislature.
In the first of two incidents, hundreds of herders from Durbed (in Chinese, Siziwang) banner (county) gathered at the 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, forcing the protesters to return home.
In a similar case, around 40 Chinese police and security personnel in a dozen police vehicles descended on Halgait village in Zaruud 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.
According to SMHRIC, additional protests by Mongolian herders had been reported from other townships in Zaruud banner, including Bayanbulag, Doloodai, and Gerchuluu.