Chinese authorities in the troubled northern region of Inner Mongolia are holding nearly 40 people following clashes between police and protesting herding communities in recent days, local residents and a U.S.-based rights group said on Thursday.
More than 100 Mongolian herders from Urad (in Chinese, Wulate) Front Banner and Rear Banner in the west of the region gathered in front of municipal government buildings in Bayannuur on Monday in protest at a lack of compensation over lost grazing rights, the sources said.
At least 39 herders were arrested and detained, and dozens were hospitalized after being severely beaten up by police in the protest, the New York-based Southern Mongolia Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC) said in an e-mailed statement.
The protest followed two similar ones last week—one in the Inner Mongolia capital Hohhot by herders from Urad Middle Banner, and one in the east of the region, the group said.
"More than 30 of us went to petition at the Bayannuur city government [on Monday], because the government hasn't paid out compensation or subsidies," a herder who gave her name as Wurigumula said.
"But the government wouldn't deal with it, and wouldn't speak to us. They just sent the police to beat people up," she said.
She said her elderly mother was among one of those detained in Bayannur.
"My mother has been in the detention center for several days now, and she has coronary heart disease and high blood pressure," Wurigumula told RFA Thursday.
"They won't let me see her, not for four or five days."
Wurigumula said several dozen police attacked the petitioners with batons.
"Some people's arms were broken and some had their heads smashed up, or legs broken," she said.
A duty officer who answered the phone declined to comment on the incident.
"We don't know about this because we haven't had a memo about it," the official said.
The official diverted inquiries to the mayor's office, while an employee who answered the mayor's hotline number took details but hadn't responded by the close of business on Thursday.
Repeated calls to the Bayannuur municipal police department rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
According to the herders, local authorities are blaming ecological destruction on over-grazing and using ecological protection policies like grazing bans as a pretext to remove herders from resource-rich grasslands.
According to Wurigumula, the government owes her family more than 200,000 yuan (U.S. $32,200) in compensation for loss of income due to grazing bans and other ecological management policies on more than 1,000 mu (165 acres) of grassland on which they farm livestock.
"The government should use its own funds to pay this money, but it has been embezzled, and the herders can't get any of it," she said.
She said some of the grazing land has already been sold off by local officials.
"The government has sold some of it to people from elsewhere in China, so they can start a mining operation," she said.
Urad Middle Banner resident Yuke told RFA that some local residents had already traveled to the regional capital Hohhot to continue their petition, but that officials there had refused to meet with them.
"We went there, but the officials weren't there; the party secretary wasn't there; the banner chief wasn't there; there was nobody to meet with," Yuke said.
Hohhot and Heshigten protests
On March 26-28, more than 100 protesters from Urad Middle Banne protested in Hohhot, as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang began a visit to the region, SMHRIC said.
They demanded that authorities halt illegal land grabs, return local herders’ grazing lands, and stop the destruction of the grasslands by Chinese miners and farmers, according to the group.
Hundreds of riot police and local Public Security Bureau authorities from Urad Middle Banner were mobilized to put down the protest, and all of the demonstrators were forcibly taken back to their homes, the group said.
"Specially dispatched riot police reinforced by the local police from our banner rounded us up in front of the [Inner Mongolia] Autonomous Region Government building," the herder told SMHRIC.
"They forcibly threw us into police vehicles and brought us back home yesterday without giving any response to our demands," the herder told SMHRIC.
On the same two days, a similar protest took place in Heshigten [Keshiketeng] Banner in the east of the region, SMHRIC said.
"About 200 Mongolian herders from Heshigten Banner's Darhan Sum gathered in front of the Inner Mongolia Datang International Keqi Coal-based Gas Co. offices, demanding an immediate halt to the destruction and pollution of the grazing lands," the group said.
The herders said the joint venture owned by Beijing Gas and Datang Power had dumped "a large quantity of toxic industrial waste" directly on the grasslands without any proper treatment, it said.
"Not only has our grazing land turned into a sewage dumping ground, but also our once-clean blue sky is filled with thick black smoke," one Darhan Sum resident told SMHRIC.
"The government officials who are bribed by these Chinese companies have no intention whatsoever of redressing our grievances," he said.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.