Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia have detained a third ethnic Mongolian writer and social media host after he protested the detention of fellow author and activist, O. Sechenbaatar.
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, a New York-based rights group reported.
He had been preparing to file an official complaint to the regional government on behalf of ethnic Mongolian herders, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC) said on its website.
"That same day, Tsogjil was brought back to his homeplace of Heshigten Banner and placed under criminal detention," it said.
He is being charged with "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," and is currently being held in the Heshigten Banner Detention Center.
"Around 8:00 p.m., Tsogjil was taken away by five plainclothes [officers] from a taxi he hired upon his arrival at a hotel in Hohhot where he was to stay," the group quoted Narnaa, a herder involved in a complaint over environmental destruction on traditional grazing lands near the Dalainuur Nature Reserve, as saying.
“In order not to put fellow herders at risk of arrest and detention, Tsogjil traveled alone to Hohhot with a great deal of first-hand materials about environmental destruction and rights violations in our communities near the Dalainuur National Nature Reserve," she said.
O. Sechenbaatar, 68, was detained along with a herder named Baldan at a protest near Lake Dalainuur in the region's Heshigten Banner, the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center
(SMHRIC) said in a report on its website.
Sechenbaatar has been placed under criminal detention on suspicion of "obstructing officials in the course of their duty," it said. He is currently also being held at the Heshigten Banner Detention Center.
Defending land rights
According to SMHRIC, Tsogjil had been active in advocating for local communities' rights to use their native language and access their land, water, and other resources, as well as maintaining their ethnic identity.
He has created and hosted at least five WeChat discussion groups with a total membership of nearly 2,500 people, of which majority are Mongolian herders and grassroots activists, the group said.
Last week, he used one of his WeChat groups to rally herding communities to a protest outside the Heshigten Banner government, calling for the release of recently detained writer O. Sechenbaatar.
"O.Sechenbaatar went into jail for defending our land and rights. We all must wake up and take up the fight to protect our homeland," Tsogjil wrote.
"The authorities can arrest one of us, a few of us, but cannot arrest all of us," he said via WeChat.
He said local herding communities are being targeted for grazing bans in the name of environmental protection of the Dalainuur wetlands, which they have unofficially stewarded for generations.
More than 100 protest
Meanwhile, more than 100 herders from Urad Middle Banner's Chuanjing village staged a protest outside the banner government buildings on Monday after being denied permission to petition the head of the regional government on a recent trip to their area, RFA has learned.
"The herders all went to the banner government to demand sheepfold subsidies and subsidies for border residents at 11.00 a.m. today," one participant told RFA. "There were more than 100 herders and more than 100 police officers there."
The herders say the local government has failed to pay out the promised subsidies.
Police officers linked arms to prevent the herders from getting into the building, while a government official told them this wasn't the right time and place to resolve the issue, according to video footage of the standoff seen by RFA.
Ethnic Mongolian rights activist Xinna said some of the police were clad in riot gear.
"It got pretty heated, what with the herders, the police, and the riot police," Xinna told RFA. "I heard that more than 10 people were detained in the afternoon. I don't know if they have been released or not."
Calls to the Urad Middle Banner government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Sechenbaatar is the author of several books, including Spring Blossoms, Autumn of Tsunkh, Story of A Bald Thief, Heshigten Folklore, and Collection of Southern Mongolian Folklore Arts.
A former teacher at the Darhan-uul High School, he has also published hundreds of essays, poems, and lyrics in Mongolian language journals and magazines.
Sechenbaatar 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.
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.
Lhamjab published the book unofficially, at his own expense, after state-run Chinese publishing houses refused to publish it.
"Lhamjab Borjigin may be the one standing before the court, but it is clearly his research and historical writings that the authorities are seeking to put on trial," PEN America's Summer Lopez, senior director for free expression programs, said in a statement on the group's website.
"As an organization of writers of conscience, we are deeply troubled to think that Lhamjab is facing the prospect of state-sanctioned punishment for producing a work of both literary and academic value," she said.
"We have said before that historical documentation is no crime, and we again urge the authorities to drop these charges and to release Lhamjab from custody."
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 Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.