Chinese authorities in the troubled northern region of Inner Mongolia are set to try three ethnic Mongolian activists who tried to defend local communities' access to local forestry land, local activists said on Monday.
Shiicayulit, Baobaozhu, and Chuangjiang face formal charges of "obstructing official business" after police in the region's Jarud banner (a county-like division) passed their cases to the state prosecution service.
The three activists were among 26 protesters detained by police in Jarud's Gahait township earlier this year amid an ongoing dispute over 5,000 mu (333 hectares) of land grabbed from them by local officials.
Local residents say the Tarabolig village party secretary and chairman of the village committee have been running the village like their own private fiefdom, after selling off and exploiting the land without consulting local people two decades ago.
"There were clashes with a neighboring village over the land dispute, and the conflict is intensifying," Tarabolig resident Saihan told RFA.
"On July 11, around 20 or 30 people went to complain outside the government's gates, and ... [the authorities] sent in the police to beat them up," Saihan said.
"Then they took them away and held them in detention," Saihan said. "There are three people who weren't released, and I heard their cases have been sent to the procuratorate [for indictment]."
Driven from their land
Meanwhile, a Tarabolig villager now resident in Japan told RFA that the party secretary took over the land and cut down the timber trees that were planted there.
"Some of it was sold to other people, while some if it he used to grow his own crops," he said.
"We have complained about this to the banner government but they won't do anything about it."
He said local people were driven off their land by people who "came from elsewhere and cut the trees down."
A third local resident, ethnic Mongolian Lin Shuangbao, said the land in question had been leased to local people for forestry purposes by the banner government in 1994, and had been illegally taken away from them.
"They detained 26 people [on July 11] and there are still three people in detention; they say it's for obstructing official business," Lin said.
Calls to the Tarabolig village government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
The New York-based rights group Southern Mongolian Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC) estimates that at least 160,000 ethnic Mongolians have been forcibly evicted from traditional grazing lands in recent decades, adding that the true number is likely to be far higher than that in official media reports.
Many evictions and land grabs take place in remote areas, and are never reported in the media, SMHRIC said.
According to SMHRIC, the land grabs, often by Chinese mining and forestry companies, are encouraged by the government, which has a policy of "modernizing" the region.
"Using the slogan of 'helping to modernize ethnic Mongolian’s backward primitive culture,' the forced eviction of ethnic Mongolians is really intended to complete the Chinese government’s long-term goal of eliminating the ethnic Mongolian population and traditional culture," the group said in a report on its website.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.