Chinese authorities have expelled a group of Inner Mongolian herders from Beijing after they persistently petitioned officials over the loss of their grazing land in a landmark case, a U.S.-based rights group said Monday.
The 17 herders from the Urad Middle Banner (in Chinese, Wulate Zhongqi) of Inner Mongolia’s Bayannur city in northern China have now been confined to their home communities to prevent them from staging further protests, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) said.
The herders had been protesting for several years over the occupation of their grazing lands by local officials, a military base, and Han Chinese miners, SMHRIC said, calling them a rare example of ethnic Mongolians from across a wide area working together to bring their land rights grievances to central authorities.
“This is new because it’s very difficult for Mongolian communities to get together to raise issues, but they were able to do this,” SMHRIC President Enhebatu Togochog told RFA on Monday.
The group was rounded up in Beijing and brought home on Nov. 30 after 12 days of submitting appeals to the State Council Letter and Visitation Bureau and the Ministry of Agriculture, the SMHRIC said in a weekend statement.
“This time our 17 herders’ representatives went to Beijing and tried to appeal to the Central Government for a just solution to our grievances,” said one of the petitioners, identified as Burenzayaa.
“Unfortunately our appeals are still ignored and the government of Urad Middle Banner shows no sign of returning our lands or compensating us for our losses,” she said.
The 17 protesters come from different areas in the 9,000 square-mile banner—the administrative equivalent of a county—where herders have been embroiled in various long-running disputes.
Togochog said the 17 herders’ case was “totally different” from other reports SMHRIC has received about herders protesting the loss of their land because it involved members from different communities from across a vast area.
“Previously most of the reports we heard were about more specific cases, usually about specific villages. But this is about people from all across the area uniting together,” he said.
All 17 are believed to remain under “strict” surveillance and restrictions since they were last reached on Saturday, he said.
“They’re not allowed to go anywhere to appeal or make complaints to higher authorities and their movement is severely restricted.”
Beatings and detentions
While in Beijing, the petitioners had protested to central government authorities against expropriation and sale of their land by local government officials to Han Chinese buyers, the destruction of their grazing land, and failure to provide adequate redress and compensation to affected herders.
Petitioners from the banner have been detained and beaten in recent years for their efforts to protect the grazing lands, they said.
In August, one member of their group, Erdentuyaa, was killed by a car while the group was walking across the street.
Petitioners said they believed her death was an intentional killing rather than an accident, and that authorities had tried to silence her family, who was given 930,000 yuan (U.S. $153,000) in compensation for her death.
Petitioners told SMHRIC that this year alone, herders have staged multiple protests and sit-ins near the banner government building in Haliut township, prompting a crackdown by riot police and security personnel.
In July and August, hundreds of herders carried out days-long of sit-ins to demand redress over their grazing land and dozens of them were beaten and detained, they said.
Ahead of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Third Plenum in November, authorities tightened surveillance on their communities and detained two herders, Davharaa and Tsetsengaa, for several days without explanation, they said.
Petitioner Ondongerel, who has been jailed multiple times in recent years for organizing protests, told SMHRIC the group would not let up on their protests since being rounded up in Beijing.
“We have been protesting for more than seven years in order to defend our grazing lands from the illegal occupations and expropriations by the Chinese,” she said. “We are still continuing our protests.”
Gansukh, a herder from the banner in his 70s, said ethnic Mongolians in the area were becoming “outsiders on our own lands” as their grazing areas were taken over by Han Chinese settlers.
“This is our land. We have lived here for generations and generations as herders. Now all of a sudden, our ancestral lands are taken away by outsiders,” he told SMHRIC.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia’s population of 23 million, frequently complain of environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.
In August, herder Bayanbataar from Uushin Banner was beaten to death by Han Chinese railroad workers while protesting the occupation of grazing lands in Inner Mongolia’s Uushin (Wushen) Banner.
He was at least the fifth Mongolian herder to die amid altercations over grazing land in recent years, including one who committed suicide in July after stabbing to death the head of a local “livestock grazing prohibition team.”
In 2011, the death of herder Murgen, who was run over by a worker driving a coal-hauling truck while protesting the destruction of grazing lands by a mining company, triggered weeks of demonstrations by herders and students across Inner Mongolia.