China’s Inner Mongolia set for more unrest: group

Originally published by AFP,27 May 2011

By Dan Martin

BEIJING — Unprecedented demonstrations by ethnic Mongols upset with Chinese rule show no signs of abating and plans for further protests are circulating on social media sites, an overseas rights group said.

The protests, which began Monday in China’s Inner Mongolia, have continued all week in the Xilingol region and calls have been issued for daily protests in coming days, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre said.

The unrest in the region was sparked by the May 10 death of a Mongol herder who was run over by a truck driven by a member of China’s dominant Han ethnic group, the US-based centre has said.

China is home to an estimated six million ethnic Mongols who have cultural and linguistic links with the Republic of Mongolia to the north.

The herder’s death inflamed long-simmering Mongol opposition to what is widely viewed as Chinese political and cultural oppression, as well as encroachment on traditional pasture lands by Han mining and energy interests.

Many ethnic Mongols in Inner Mongolia complain their plight has been overshadowed internationally by Tibet and Xinjiang, despite similar grievances against Chinese authorities.

Mongols in the region told AFP by phone they are also upset over the disappearance of Hada, China’s most prominent ethnic Mongol dissident.

Hada completed a 15-year jail term in December, but his supporters say that he and his wife Xinna and their son Uiles have since disappeared into the custody of authorities.

A schedule for further protests over the coming week is being widely circulated among Mongols through social media sites, an ethnic Mongol, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

The Mongolian rights group said the calls were urging “all Mongols to inform each other to take to the streets to defend the lands and rights of the Mongols”.

Demonstrations were held again on Thursday in two locations in the vast region’s Xilingol area where the herder’s death occurred, the group said in a report on its website.

It posted pictures showing crowds of mostly Mongol youths holding banners and marching through the streets of the Left Ujumchin Banner and the Huveet Shar Banner. A banner is a local district.

Chinese government authorities in the two areas either refused comment to AFP or were unreachable on Friday.

The Mongolian rights group said the protesters’ Mongol-script banners bore slogans such as “Defend the rights of Mongols” and “Defend the homeland”.

The actions are almost certain to draw a strict security response by Chinese authorities who, unsettled by the recent unrest in the Arab world, are already in the midst of a broad nationwide crackdown on dissent.

Tibet and the remote northwestern Xinjiang region remain under tight security after anger at Chinese rule burst into violent unrest by their Tibetan and Uighur minorities in the two regions in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

The herder who died, named Mergen, had been among a group of Mongols that blocked a caravan of coal-hauling trucks in Xilingol, the Mongolian rights group said.

They had been angered by an influx of miners that had displaced herders, destroyed grazing lands and killed livestock.

The Xilingol government has said four people were arrested over the killing and the destruction of pasture lands.

Rights groups say Hada, who like many Mongols goes by one name, has become the victim of an enforced disappearance by police skittish over his potential to rally Mongol anger.

One of China’s longest-jailed prisoners of conscience, Hada fell foul of authorities through writings in which he called for Mongol autonomy and for organising peaceful demonstrations as head of the underground Southern Mongolian Democracy Alliance.

Many Mongols defiantly refer to Inner Mongolia as “Southern Mongolia”.

Since February, ruling Communist Party authorities have jailed, detained, or placed under various restrictions dozens of rights lawyers, activists and dissidents, apparently out of fear of an Arab-style uprising in China.