China to Recognize Mongolian Signatures

Authorities in Inner Mongolia vow to enforce acceptance of official signatures in Mongolian.

china-security-imongolia-30.gif Chinese security personnel at the Inner Mongolia Normal University campus in the regional capital Hohhot, May 31, 2011.

Authorities in northern China have promised to allow ethnic Mongolians the right to sign official documents using their native language, according to a Mongolian rights group, following years of campaigning by one activist as part of an effort to assert autonomy under Chinese rule.

The pledge could set a precedent for ethnic Mongolians in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region (IMAR) where hundreds of complaints have been filed against various levels of Chinese government branches for discriminatory policies against members of the minority group.

Munkhdalai Borjigin, a retired employee of San Lian Chemistry in the regional capital Hohhot, told the U.S.- based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) that he had received the notice on May 17 after years of appealing to government departments over being repeatedly denied the right to sign bank documents in Mongolian.

According to Munkhdalai, the notice assured him that an official government document would be issued shortly to enforce the order.

The letter was received on the same day that Tao Jian, deputy director of the Autonomous Region Political and Legal Affairs Committee met with Public Security Bureau officials and various banking authorities to adopt the decision, which ordered that signatures in Mongolian be accepted throughout the entire regional banking system, SMHRIC said.

SMHRIC director Enhebatu Togochog said that hundreds of Mongolians across the IMAR had filed similar complaints over being denied banking and other services because they had attempted to sign documents in their native language.

But he remained skeptical that the new government promise would be effectively implemented.

“The authorities have promised that they are going to come out with some official document to ensure that the Mongolian signatures are accepted without any problem, but there is no guarantee that the change will really be fulfilled,” Enhebatu said.

“According to the notice, and according to the explanation by Munkhdalai, it is applicable for everybody—every Mongolian in the autonomous region. But in reality, it’s totally different. I don’t know how the policy will be implemented in the real world,” he said.

“The Chinese authorities have done this many times.”

He gave an example of a Mongolian man who sued the Chinese postal service several years ago because postal workers would not deliver his mail with a Mongolian address printed on the envelope.

The court found in the man’s favor, ordering that the mail had to be delivered as addressed. But since then, Enhebatu said, many postal branches continue to refuse to deliver mail addressed in Mongolian.

“China is not a country of rule of law. They make promises, but in reality it is totally different.”

Ongoing struggle

According to SMHRIC, Munkhdalai had spent years campaigning to have his Mongolian signature accepted on official documents after being repeatedly denied service at banks in the autonomous region.

In September 2006, the former chemical company employee had tried to withdraw money from his account with the Xian Fu Street branch of the Chinese Agricultural Bank, only to be told by a bank employee that signatures in Mongolian were "legally unacceptable" and have his request rejected.

Munkhdalai appealed to the Hohhot City Nationality Affairs Committee, which ordered that the bank employee apologize and allow him to withdraw his money.

In June 2010, Munkhdalai again signed his name in Mongolian while replacing his banking documents at the Jin Qiao Branch of the Chinese Agricultural Bank, but was told to sign using his Chinese name. When he refused, the bank suspended his account.

Munkhdalai filed a lawsuit against the bank, which was heard in July that year by the Hohhot City Saihan District Court. During the proceedings, he refused to speak in Chinese and requested the case be conducted in Mongolian.

On the back of a strong legal argument, Munkhdalai won the case, and the bank was ordered to provide him with compensation and a promise to accept Mongolian signatures in the future.

In November 2010, Munkhdalai appealed to the Hohhot City Hui Nationality District Disciplinary Committee and the Autonomous Region Nationality Affairs Committee, claiming that the refusal of Mongolian signatures in the region was a violation of rights, but was driven out of both offices.

And in March last year, he again had a request to withdraw money from the Agricultural Bank denied at its Xin Hua Street branch based on his refusal to sign his Chinese name, demonstrating that the earlier promise by bank officials was not being honored.

"There is no guarantee that the notice given to me [will be] fully implemented," Munkhdalai told SMHRIC when asked about the likelihood that the new government pledge would be honored. "But that does not stop me from continuing to fight for my legal rights."

Earlier, in a blog entry posted on March 23, Munkhdalai highlighted the need for ethnic Mongolians to protect their national language, culture, and identity, despite the obstacles.

"If we do not fight for our own rights, who else will stand up for them?"

Continued detention

In its 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released Thursday, the U.S. State Department highlighted the case of another of Inner Mongolia’s most prominent activists, Hada, in calling on China to improve its respect for the integrity of the person, including freedom from disappearance.

“At year’s end authorities continued to hold ethnic Mongolian activist Hada, his wife, and his son in detention without trial or pressing formal charges,” the report said, noting that Hada had been released from prison in December 2010 after serving a 15-year prison sentence on espionage and separatism charges.

Hada had founded the Southern Mongolia Democracy Alliance, which called for a referendum on the future of the IMAR.

Reported by Joshua Lipes.

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