Nearly 400 ethnic Mongolian former students in China’s northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region have protested in front of a government building after authorities reneged on an agreement to provide them with jobs, an overseas rights group said, in the latest show of unrest in the region.
Graduates of the Tongliao Normal (Teachers') School, many of whom matriculated between 1998 and 2003, gathered at the doors of the Tongliao Municipality Government building on July 18, demanding a meeting with the governor of the municipality, according to the U.S.-based Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC).
“During the protest, representatives from the protesters attempted to walk into the government building … but they were immediately stopped by police and security personnel,” SMHRIC said in a statement.
The rights group said it received a written communication from the protesters claiming that before their enrollment, all students were required to enter into an agreement with the banner (prefectural) government educational bureau and the local schools to guarantee that they would work for the school after their graduation.
But according to the protesters, of the more than 2,500 graduates between 1998 and 2003, the majority never received offers of employment.
"Except for a very few Chinese students who had connections and money, all of our Mongolian students have never been offered any employment opportunity," SMHRIC quoted a protester surnamed Altan as saying in a telephone interview.
"The government lied to us. They are breaking their promises and denying our rights to employment."
The former students said they have petitioned the banner government and the Tongliao Municipal Government several times since 2008, but have only been told to “wait” in response.
Last October, more than 100 female graduates who held a sit-in protest in front of the same municipal government building were severely beaten by police, SMHRIC said.
The rights group quoted an anonymous Mongolian protester who said the former students had petitioned the government “dozens of times.”
"This July alone, we have already been there to protest three times separately on July 4, July 11, and July 18. We are frustrated and have lost faith with the authorities," the protester said.
The principal of Tongliao Normal School, surnamed Buyan, said that the government could not fulfill its promise because the consolidation of rural Mongolian schools, coupled with an increased dropout rate, led to the elimination of a large number of teacher positions.
The July 18 students protests came on the same day when over 1,000 herders demonstrated for the return of their land in Bairin Right Banner and Sharmurun Som (in Chinese, Balin Youqi and Xilamulun Sumu).
Around 300 riot police and local officials were dispatched to quell the protest, in which dozens were injured.
The protests over land rights were triggered after a local Han Chinese businesswoman surnamed Sui allegedly hired more than 200 Han Chinese to kill livestock belonging to ethnic Mongolian herdsmen by running them over with cars and bulldozers.
They also beat up herdsmen who resisted the land grab.
In May, Inner Mongolia saw its worst unrest in years after the death of an ethnic Mongolian herder in a standoff with mining company employees sparked large-scale protests across the region.
As students and herders took to the streets to demand better protection of the environment and their rights and traditions, Beijing poured large numbers of troops into the region and enforced a security lock-in at schools, universities, and government institutions.
A truck driver who caused the death of the local herdsman identified as Murgen was sentenced to death in June. A second driver was sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the standoff over complaints by local herding communities that strip-mining operations are ruining their environment and livelihood.
On July 24, the ruling Communist Party of China's disciplinary watchdog said that former vice chairman of the region, Liu Zhuozhi, had been expelled from the party for corruption.
Liu, who was identified with promoting the region's mining boom, was sacked from his position last December.
Mongols are a recognized ethnic minority in China and number around 6 million according to government statistics.
They now make up less than 20 percent of the population of Inner Mongolia, which is China's biggest coal-producing region.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.