Chinese authorities have closed down influential ethnic Mongolian websites following growing online anger over the killing of a herdsman by a Han Chinese oil trucker protesting the destruction of traditional grazing land in Inner Mongolia, according to a human rights group.
“Popular Mongolian language Internet sites including Boljoo (www.boljoo.com), Mongolian BBS (www.mglbbs.net) and Medege (www.medege.com) have been shut down," said the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), which closely monitors the human rights situation in China's northern region of Inner Mongolia.
Boljoo, the only Mongolian Classic Script instant messenger service and one of the most popular Mongolian language Internet discussion forums in Inner Mongolia, was shuttered by Chinese authorities on Thursday, SMHRIC said in a statement.
The rights group cited a message posted by Boljoo administrator Sechent which said “the site will be shut down until Nov. 15 in accordance with the notice given [by authorities].”
SMHRIC said the instant messenger service provided “tens of thousands of users” with a platform for disseminating information regarding Chinese rule in Inner Mongolia and the promotion of the Mongolian language, culture, and identity amongst Mongolian communities around the world.
Mongolian BBS, another popular Mongolian language discussion forum, was also shut down on Thursday for posting articles related to the killing of herder Zorigt, who SMHRIC said was an active part of a community trying to protect grasslands—the heartland of Mongol culture—in Huhtolgoi Gachaa in Uushin (in Chinese, Uxin) Banner (county).
The forum was host to “thousand of regular members,” SMHRIC said, providing a space where ethnic Mongolians could disseminate “a great deal of first-hand information, including pictures and video clips regarding human rights violations of the Mongolian people by the Chinese authorities.”
Mongolian language news site Medege was shut down by Chinese authorities for failing to “register with an ICP (Internet Content Provider),” SMHRIC said.
The rights group said that Internet users are currently redirected to a page informing them that the site has been “shut down due to its failure to have ICP registration in accordance with Order No.33 issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China."
The message urges the site administrator to visit the Ministry's official website to complete the registration immediately.
Herdsman Zorigt died Thursday while trying to protect his land and livestock from “unregulated Chinese oil and gas transport trucks that drive roughshod through their grazing lands and kill livestock," the SMHRIC said.
"During a number of confrontations between the local Mongolian herders and the Shuurhei Oil-Gas Field transporters, Zorigt and others were beaten and hospitalized several times previously," it alleged.
China's official news agency Xinhua said Zorigt's death was caused by a "traffic accident," saying the truck driver, named Li Youliang, saw a man, whose name was given in Chinese as Zhaorigetu, blocking the road.
Li drove around him, but when Zhaorigetu saw that the truck did not stop, he got on a motorcycle and chased the truck, the report said.
After following the truck for a distance, Zhaorigetu sped up to pass the truck on the right side and collided with it. Zhaorigetu was taken to the hospital and died of his injuries hours later, according to Xinhua.
But the SMHRIC charged that Xinhua tried "to prevent possible unrest by the Mongolians" and "preemptively reported on the event, calling it a 'traffic accident.'"
In May, the death of a herder named Murgen, who was run over after a standoff with mining company truck drivers in Shiliin Gol, sparked the worst demonstrations in two decades in Inner Mongolia, a region bordering Mongolia—a separate, independent country.
The protesters, including university students, called for the protection of herders’ rights and condemned the exploitation of grasslands.
The authorities cracked down on the mass protests by dispatching troops and confining students to campuses. A truck driver was convicted of causing Murgen's death and sentenced to death.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up nearly one-fifth of Inner Mongolia's 24 million people, claim their grazing lands have been ruined by mining and desertification.
According to SMHRIC, many complain that the Chinese authorities’ promises to respect herders’ rights "have never been achieved."
Reported by Joshua Lipes.