Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia are holding a prominent ethnic Mongolian historian who gathered testimony of a historical genocide campaign by the ruling Chinese Communist Party under house arrest pending his prosecution on charges of separatism.
Historian and author Lhamjab A. Borjigin, 74, was initially detained on July 11 under residential surveillance by police in Shiliinhot city, the regional capital of Shiliingol League in the region's northwest, a U.S.-based rights group reported.
Lhamjab, the author of a book on China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), was informed on July 19 that the state is preparing to prosecute him for "separatism" and "sabotaging national unity," the New York-based Southern Mongolia Human Rights & Information Center (SMHRIC) said in a statement on its website.
A native of Heshigten Banner, a county-like division in Inner Mongolia, and a member of the state-backed Shiliingol League Literary Association, Lhamjab has been a prominent voice in ethnic Mongolian culture in China, as well as documenting the region's oral history.
He specializes in survivor testimonies of the political violence and social chaos of the Cultural Revolution, publishing his book China's Cultural Revolution in 2006.
"The police told me that the charges were ethnic separatist activities," Lhamjab told RFA on Monday. "They said it was to do with my book about the Cultural Revolution."
Lhamjab said his book had done nothing but reflect the reality for ethnic Mongolians during the Cultural Revolution.
"I told them that this was the truth about the Cultural Revolution, and he told me that we're not allowed to talk about it," he said. "I told him I was seeking truth from facts, and where was the crime in that?"
"What is there to plead guilty to?" he said.
Genocide campaign alleged
The book documents a "state-sponsored ... genocide campaign" waged by the Chinese Communist Party in the region during the period, according to SMHRIC.
"In the book, Lhamjab documents detailed accounts of torture techniques and the gruesome nature of this genocide campaign that ... claimed the lives of at least 27,900 and imprisoned and tortured 346,000," it said.
Lhamjab's book was rejected by major state-run Chinese publishing houses, and was eventually published by an underground press at Lhamjab's own expense. It has been widely read among ethnic Mongolians in China, and also in the neighboring independent state of Mongolia.
An abridged audio version of the book began to be widely circulated via the social media platform WeChat last year, SMHRIC said.
In an earlier statement to SMHRIC, Lhamjab said he had refused to speak Chinese with the police officers who paid him a visit.
"I refused to speak in Chinese and demanded they speak in Mongolian, as it was my home and Mongolian is an official language of the [Inner Mongolia] Autonomous Region. One of them started speaking in Mongolian,” Lhamjab said.
When the police took out a document purportedly signed by the Communist Party chief of the Inner Mongolia region, Lhamjab threw it on the floor.
'Sabotaging national unity'
"I told them, 'You Chinese killed us Mongolians by tens of thousands and have no remorse, but are now accusing me of sabotaging national unity for what I have said about what you have done,'" he said.
"If anyone sabotaged national unity, then it's you Chinese who have done so by carrying out massacres and silencing us," he said.
"I refused to sign the paper and told them that I was ready to die in their prison. You don’t need any excuse to kill me as you didn’t need any when killing tens of thousands of us in the past," he said.
However, he called for help finding a lawyer who might be willing to defend him.
"We Mongolians do not have any basic human rights or fundamental freedoms, let alone political autonomy," he said.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, increasingly complain of widespread environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.
Clashes between Chinese state-backed mining or forestry companies and herding communities are common in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.
But those who complain about the loss of their grazing lands are frequently targeted for harassment, beatings, and detention by the authorities.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.