Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia have detained two more group chat moderators on the social media platform WeChat after they took part in demonstrations in support of herding communities, a New York-based rights group said on Friday.
Ethnic Mongolian herders Bai Xiurong and Altanbagan, were detained by riot police at the scene of a demonstration outside government offices in Urad Middle Banner on April 22, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC) said in a statement on its website.
More than 100 herders from the banner, a county-like division, had gathered in front of the local government building to demand a meeting with Bu Xiaolin, chairman of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, who was on a visit to the area, it said.
Around a dozen people were detained, while Bai and Altanbagan were "thrown into SWAT vehicles" and each handed a 14-day administrative detention sentence, which is handed down by a police committee without the need for a trial.
“Bai Xiurong’s sister was summoned yesterday ... She was forced to surrender Bai Xiurong’s phone," SMHRIC quoted herder Tsetseg as saying in an audio message.
"The [police] accessed her phone and wiped out all the WeChat discussion groups she maintained," he said.
Since Bai’s arrest, her disabled elderly parents, who need constant care, have been left unattended, and her livestock have gone without food or water, SMHRIC said.
Herders also traded information about the detentions on WeChat, in spite of the group chat shutdowns, it said.
"Some were released around midnight and the early morning of April 23 while [the rest of us] herders staged a sit-in outside the government building, demanding the immediate release of all arrested herders," an unidentified local herder said via the social media platform.
Footage of the protest sent to SMHRIC showed hundreds of police arriving at the scene.
One protester says in the video: "We are treated like animals. They rounded up us like fencing up livestock," he said. "Whoever comes to the government to express his or her opinion is arrested like this."
Three writers detained
The detentions come after authorities in the region detained three ethnic Mongolian writers for speaking out for their ethnic group in the face of action by Chinese government officials and companies.
Tsogjil, 40, who hosted a number of discussion groups on the social media platform WeChat, was detained on April 16 in the regional capital Hohhot. He had been preparing to file an official complaint with the regional government on behalf of ethnic Mongolian herders in Heshigten Banner.
O. Sechenbaatar, 68, was detained along with a herder named Baldan at a protest near Lake Dalainuur in the region's Heshigten Banner earlier this month. He has been placed under criminal detention on suspicion of "obstructing officials in the course of their duty," it said.
Sechenbaatar had also hosted a number of WeChat groups to provide local Mongolian herders with a venue to discuss the pressing issues in their communities, including mining, environmental destruction, pollution, and herders’ protests, SMHRIC said.
Tsogjil had used one of his WeChat groups to rally herding communities to a protest outside the Heshigten Banner government, calling for Sechenbaatar's release.
Both writers are being held at the Heshigten Banner Detention Center.
Earlier this month, ethnic Mongolian author Lhamjab A. Borjigin, 75, stood trial on charges of "separatism" and "sabotaging national unity" at the Shiliinhot Municipal People’s Court.
For his book China's Cultural Revolution, published in 2006, Lhamjab gathered oral testimonies of survivors of violence against ethnic Mongolians during the Cultural Revolution, a task that took him 20 years.
The book accuses the ruling Chinese Communist Party of state-sponsored genocide in the region, detailing torture techniques and detentions in a brutal campaign that claimed the lives of at least 27,900 people and imprisoned and tortured 346,000.
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 the authorities or 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 RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.