Herder hung himself at government building gate, over 30 arrested in protest in the regional capital
Amidst escalating protests by Mongolian herders in Southern (Inner) Mongolia, on January 19, 2015, a herder named Mr. Tumur, 45 years old, from Zargalant Sum (“ji ri ga lang tu sum u” in Chinese) of Abag Banner (“a ba ga qi”), western Southern Mongolia, hung himself to death from the Sum Government building gate in protest of the authorities’ illegal occupation of his grazing land.
According to written appeals the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) received from the deceased’s relatives, Tumur had been petitioning the local government for years for the return of his grazing land illegally occupied during a “help the poor initiative.” Relatives revealed that Tumur was active in organizing herders to demand the government punishment of corrupt officials and to provide justice for herders.
Pictures of the suicide scene went viral on major Chinese social media outlets, including WebChat, Sina, and Tencent sites. Mongolian netizens demanded justice for the deceased and rallied for the survival of the Mongolians as a distinct people.
As the crisis deepened in the Southern Mongolian rural pastoralist communities, on the morning of January 26, 2015, some 300 Mongolian herders from western Southern Mongolia’s Durbed Banner (“si zi wang qi”), Sunid Right Banner (“su ni te you qi”), Urad Middle Banner (“wu la te qian qi”), and Shiliin-hot (“xi lin hao te”) gathered and protested in front of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Department of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. Many of the participants were herders who had protested the Chinese Central Military Commission and State Bureau of Letters and Calls in Beijing since January 11, 2015. They demanded that Chinese authorities return their land and redress their losses due to land grabs by the military base, extractive industry, and “ecological migration” policy.
At 10:00 a.m. officials from the Department of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry met with the herders’ representatives but failed to meet their demands. Disgruntled herders displayed a banner reading “Return Our Homeland, Return Our Justice” and requested a solution.
At 3:00 p.m. the herders marched to the Autonomous Region Government and demanded the protection of their rights and a solution to their land grievances. Police surveillance was heavy, and a loudspeaker announcement from the authorities was played repeatedly to emphasize “social stability” and “law and order.”
At 4:00 p.m. herders marched to the Inner Mongolian People’s Conference Hall where the “Two Meetings” of the “Autonomous Region People’s Congress” and the “People’s Political Consultative Conference” were still in session. Some 200 police officers arrived to the scene and forcefully arrested more than 30 herders. Pictures and video clips sent to SMHRIC from the scene show the protesting herders resisting the arrests and refusing to leave despite the the police brutality.
“We were thrown into a bus and on the way to our home Banner,” protest organizer Mr. Davshilt told SMHRIC.
“Herders are not afraid of being arrested,” Ms. Naanaa, another organizer of the protest, told SMHRIC via audio messenger, “if they take us back to Durbed Banner, we will protest in front of the Banner government.”
The initial protest began January 11, 2015 when some 30 herders from Durbed Banner and Sunid Right Banner marched toward Beijing to protest the Chinese People’s Liberation Army military base’s occupation of grazing land. The protest was later joined by herders from the Urad Middle Banner and Shiliin-hot areas after they decided to continue protesting at the regional capital Hohhot.
According to communications received from the affected communities, the expansion of the Zureh Military Training Base forced nearly 3,000 herders from more than 800 households to give up their grazing lands, offering neither proper compensation nor adequate housing.
Herders from Urad Middle Banner joined the protest in Hohhot for the local authorities and mining companies’ illegal grab of their grazing lands. Some of them also complained about police brutality that left several herders injured in earlier protests.
Herders from Shiliin-hot area joined the protest and demanded the authorities return the land from which they were forcefully evicted in 2002 and 2004 as part of the “Ecological Migration” Project.