Six ethnic Mongolian herders from China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region who had clashed with Chinese workers from a state-run forestry company that illegally occupied their grazing land are facing up to seven years each in prison on trumped-up charges of sabotage and destruction of properties, a U.S.-based rights group said Friday.
Southern Mongolia Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC) said the men were detained by police in early June after a clash with Chinese workers from state-run company Shuang He Forestry and formally arrested three weeks later.
On September 13, the Ongniud Banner Public Security Bureau transferred the case to the Ongniud Banner People’s Procuratorate to prosecute the six herders, it said.
“The Chinese authorities are preparing to hand down long prison terms, possibly up to seven years,” to the six herders “on the trumped-up charges of ‘sabotaging production and management’ and ‘intentionally destroying public or private properties.’”
The trial was likely to take place in mid- or late-October, SMHRIC said.
The six herders are Tulguur, Tugusbayar, Jargalt, Nasandalai, Munkhbayar, and Ulaanbar, all from the Bayannuur Gachaa village community of Shinsume township in eastern Inner Mongolia’s Ongniud Banner (in Chinese, Weng Niu Te Qi), the group said.
SMHRIC cited a document from the People’s Procuratorate which said that from April 15 to May 25, as the head of Bayannuur Gachaa, “Tulguur on multiple occasions aided and abetted [his fellow] defendants … to mobilize herders from the Gachaa to interfere with the activities of the Shuang He Forestry personnel.”
According to the document, the six herders repeatedly blocked Shuang He’s vehicles, confiscated their saplings, and leveled cultivated land, causing “direct damage” of 32,682 yuan (U.S. $5,340) and “indirect damage” of 54,000 yuan (U.S. $8,820).
But in an appeal sent to SMHRIC, the herders said that damage caused by their demolition of an unoccupied tent they said the company illegally erected on their land was “minimal,” citing an independent agency they hired which assessed the value at only 2,400 yuan (U.S. $390).
“Not only are the authorities worried about the escalating tensions and possible unrest by herders, but also the local corrupt officials are nervous about the disclosure of bribes and graft in connection with land expropriation,” Tulguur’s wife Sarangowaa told SMHRIC.
“In particular, Liu Jin, former party secretary of our Gachaa, was in power for 30 years, and grew fat off bribes and government funds obtained through selling our grazing lands,” she said.
“We have lost faith in the government already because these corrupt officials go unpunished while herders like my husband, who defended their legal rights, are locked up and face long jail sentences.”
Sarangowaa told SMHRIC that the family members of the six detained herders had appealed several times to higher authorities, including the Inner Mongolia government’s complaint center known as the “Letter and Visit Office,” in the regional capital Hohhot, seeking their release.
SMHRIC said that despite their appeals, the authorities are “determined to punish these herders harshly” in what the rights group said was an attempt to suppress increasingly widespread resistance by Mongolian herders against “Chinese occupation and destruction of their traditional grazing lands.”
It said that local public security authorities had ramped up surveillance of the herders’ family members and relatives, fearing that the case might attract public support.
Sarangowaa told SMHRIC that authorities had threatened her and Tulguur’s sister with arrest if they continued to post information about the case online and communicate with foreign news media and rights organizations.
“Last week, two public security personnel came to search my home and confiscated my computer hard disk,” she said.
“I told them, ‘Go ahead and take it with you. I have already sent out what I need to send out to whom I needed to send to’.”
She also called on the international community to help publicize the case before the upcoming trial.
“It will be even better if any foreign journalist or human rights activist can come to observe the trial,” she said.
“The authorities here are afraid of the publicity of this type of case.”
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, complain of environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.
Reports of Chinese government plans to resettle “about a million Chinese” from regions of southwestern China devastated by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake to Inner Mongolia have sparked a series of protests among Mongolians, who have used social media to spread the word and rally other protesters.