Inner Mongolian Historian on Hunger Strike in Ulan Bator Jail

By Rachel Vandenbrink
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Mongolian activists hold a press conference on Rolmaajidiin Tsengel's case in Ulan Bator, Mongolia on June 11, 2013.
Mongolian activists hold a press conference on Rolmaajidiin Tsengel's case in Ulan Bator, Mongolia on June 11, 2013.
Photo courtesy of SMHRIC

A historian from China’s Inner Mongolia region held and accused of plotting a coup in the neighboring country of Mongolia has gone on hunger strike to push for his release, a U.S.-based rights group said Wednesday.

Rolmaajidiin Tsengel, a former Chinese citizen who has lived in Mongolia for the past two decades, began the hunger strike 15 days ago following the release of three others who were held in connection with his case, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC) said.

Tsengel, who was arrested in May last year, is accused of an “attempt to overthrow the government of Mongolia and conspiracy of a coup” for translating Chinese documents for a historical documentary film, according to SMHRIC.

The three others accused of the conspiracy plot, including filmmaker Gurragchaa Badamragchaa, are all citizens of Mongolia, and were freed after a recent court hearing.

“One of the major reasons for Tsengel’s recent hunger strike seems to be that he is still being held while the main suspect of the ‘conspiracy’ case [Badamragchaa] was released recently along with two other Mongolian citizens after a court hearing that failed to find any evidence to support the authorities’ claim,” SMHRIC said in a statement.

Activists in Mongolia held a press conference in Ulan Bator on Tuesday to call for Tsengel’s release, saying the authorities were targeting Tsengel because of his connections to China.

“Tsengel is a completely innocent man whose only crime is being a Southern [Inner] Mongolian,” journalist and human rights activist Munkhbayar Chuluundorj said at the press conference.  

“No doubt, the entire process has been heavily influenced by Chinese intervention,” Munkhbayar told SMHRIC before the conference.    

Held in Ulan Bator

Tsengel is currently being held in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator’s Pre-trial Detention Center No. 461, where he was transferred following 10 months in the infamous Central Province Prison.   

Originally from Shiliin-gol (in Chinese, Xilinguole) China’s Inner Mongolia region, Tsengel went to Mongolia in 1993 and later obtained his doctorate in Mongolian history from the National University of Mongolia.

As a scholar, he was not affiliated with any political organizations or tied to activist causes, according to SMHRIC.    

“He is an ordinary scholar who has no interest in politics,” Munkhbayar told the group.

Fluent in Chinese, Tsengel had sometimes assisted others with translation projects, including Badamragchaa’s film “Galdan Boshogt” that is at the center of the conspiracy case.

The documentary is about a Mongolian national hero who fought in the 17th century against Manchu expansion and strived to unify Mongol tribes.

Tsengel had also worked as an adviser on a documentary film about war between China and Mongolia in the early 20th century, according to an online report.

Some 6 million ethnic Mongolians live in China, mainly in the Inner Mongolia region that borders Mongolia to the north.

Many of them complain of environmental destruction and unfair developmental policies in the region, where the overwhelming majority of residents are Han Chinese.

In 2009, Mongolia deported Inner Mongolian Batzangaa, who had founded a college of Mongolian and Tibetan traditional medicine, back to China along with his family while they were seeking asylum in Ulan Bator.

Last month, Chinese authorities sentenced Batzangaa to three years in jail for “economic crimes” after police accused him of planning to meet with a foreign official to arrange his family's escape overseas.





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