Authorities in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) have clashed with hundreds of ethnic Mongolian herders and detained around 20 who petitioned the local government in recent days for assistance amid an ongoing drought in the region, a rights group said Wednesday.
More than 200 herders gathered in front of the Shuluun Chagaan (in Chinese, Zhengxiangbai) banner (a county-like division) administrative building in Shiliin-gol (Xilinguolei) league (prefecture) on Sept. 6 to demand relief subsidies and government-brokered loans to offset losses from drought, according to New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC).
Authorities in the banner seat Mingant township deployed riot police and security personnel to disperse the herders, who had gathered ahead of a visit by IMAR regional officials, and the local Public Security Bureau arrested seven people, SMHRIC said.
Protesters reassembled in front of the government building the following day, but during the evening, more than 20 public security personnel detained five herders SMHRIC identified as Natsag, Nasan-ulzei, Yungee, Gangaa and Manglai for organizing the action.
On Tuesday, more than 400 herders marched down a highway to try to block the path of the visiting officials, including regional government chairman Baatar and regional party secretary Wang Jun, en route to Mingant township from Shiliin-hot (Xilinhaote), the capital of Shiliin-gol.
Around 500 local security personnel and riot police were dispatched from neighboring banners and Shiliin-hot to crackdown on the march and, after a confrontation, began beating them and arresting herders, SMHRIC said, citing a video the group received from local community members.
At least eight herders were arrested during Tuesday’s protest, it said.
In the video, a Mongolian woman holds onto the bumper from beneath a police vehicle believed to contain the eight arrested herders and cries for their release.
Waiting for weeks
Herder Chowk Naren told RFA late on Tuesday that banner authorities were unwilling to listen to the petitioners’ concerns and confirmed that several herders had been arrested during recent protests.
"We went to the banner government to demand that they pay drought relief subsidies to herders, and if we are to solve our problems ourselves, then we need loans from the Agricultural Bank or other financial institutions,” he said.
"But the banner government wouldn't let us meet with regional party secretary Wang Jun, who was visiting, to talk to him about our complaints."
Chowk Naren said at least five people were detained after trying to approach Wang on Tuesday.
"They detained five people. They grabbed seven or eight, maybe 10 people when secretary Wang was en route,” he said.
Another herder, who gave only a single name, Bataar, said the government had promised a response to demands, but that none had been forthcoming.
"We have been waiting for more than two weeks now," he said.
"They won't let us sit in front of the banner government buildings, and they have started detaining people."
SMHRIC quoted a herder named Erdenbaatar as saying that the banner government had continually ignored local grievances.
“Not only are we barred from appealing to the visiting officials but also were threatened, beaten up and arrested when we marched on the highway,” he said.
“They even control what we should say and what should not during the officials’ visit to our banner.”
The group also quoted a herder named Bataa as saying that banner government officials finally agreed to meet with the protesters late on Tuesday.
“But when we met them, they tried to threaten us with arrest and possible imprisonment instead of listening to what we have to say,” he said.
According to SMHRIC, protests continued on Wednesday with around 200 herders occupying the banner government building’s main lobby and the building entrance, demanding the immediate release of the arrested herders and redress to the issues the herders are facing.
It was unclear what action, if any, local authorities took in response.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.