On January 11, 2014, Chinese public security personnel arrested five Mongolian herders, Ms. Todoo, Ms. Urnaa, Ms. Delgertsetseg, Mr. Jargalt and their leader Ms. Odongerel, the long time organizer of herders’ protests from western Southern (Inner) Mongolia’s Urad Middle Banner (“wu la te zhong qi” in Chinese). While being escorted from their homes to the Urad Banner Detention Center by Public Security personnel, Mr. Jargalt who was in handcuffs, managed to escape, prompting the local authorities to carry out a massive manhunt.
Two days before the arrests, herders from different parts of Urad Middle Banner gathered to mount a protest in front of the government building in the Banner capital Haliut Township. They demanded the local authorities to stop their land grabs, return the herders’ grazing lands and hold transparent elections at the Gachaa (a Gachaa consists of several villages) level. The herders felt that a fair election would at least hold out the possibility that their rights would be protected through individuals who would honestly represent their interests.
Local authorities ignored the herders’ demands, so out of desperation the herders made plans to stage protests at the regional capital Hohhot and the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. On the morning of January 11, 2014 local time, dozens of Public Security personnel with five police vehicles raided the protesters’ homes and arrested the five herders.
“With the handcuffs still on, Jargalt is hiding in a safe place now, ” Mr. Burenzayaa, another organizer of the herders’ protests, who also escaped from police arrest told the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) from his hideout.
“The reason why we are hiding is that we are planning to go to Hohhot and Beijing as quickly as possible to appeal to the higher authorities about our grievances,” Burinzayaa said, “therefore we must not be arrested before we get there.”
Among the five arrested was the long time staunch advocate of herders’ rights, Ms. Odongerel. She has been arrested, detained and jailed multiple times by the Urad Middle Banner Public Security Bureau since she started organizing the herders’ protests 7 years ago.
On November 15, 2012, Odongerel was sentenced to a year and half of reeducation and thrown into a labor camp in Hohhot along with many drug convicts. According to the court verdict on her case, the main crimes she was charged with were “organizing others to come to the government to make trouble” and “illegal petitioning in Tiananmen Square in Beijing”.
According to written complaints SMHRIC has received from the Mongolian herders’ community of Urad Middle Banner, the major concerns the herders have communicated to the Chinese authorities include:
1. Illegal land grabs by military bases and Chinese miners;
2. Government officials’ illegal occupation of herders’ grazing lands;
3. Open and transparent Gachaa level herders’ representation through fair and transparent elections;
4. The local authorities’ deliberate retaliation toward the herders by changing their household registration status from “rural” to “other”;
5. Destruction of the grassland and pollution of natural environment by Chinese settlers and mining companies.
“We have been protesting almost every day in front of the Urad Middle Banner government building and the Bureau of Animal Husbandry. None of our concerns has ever been taken seriously by the government,” another herder who was asked not to be identified told SMHRIC, “we will not stop our protests until our grievances are addressed.”
“We Mongolian herders from our community are becoming more confident to continue the effort to defend our legal rights and protect our grazing lands thanks to the international attention especially international news media reporting on our issues,” the herder added.