On the morning of May 23, 2011, hundreds of Mongolian herders from Right Ujumchin Banner of Southern (Inner) Mongolia took to the streets in the Banner capital (equivalent to the county level of government) to protest against the Chinese miners’ brutal killing of a Mongolian herder and the destruction of Mongolian herders’ grazing land. Hundreds more herders from three sums (a Sum is an administrative unit one level below banner) of Right Ujumchin Banner were blocked by armed police on their way marching toward the Banner capital.
According to an email communication from the local Mongolian community, three herders and one student were severely beaten in front of the Banner Government building and taken away by the police. Whereabouts and current condition of the four are still unknown. Mongols who captured the protest and police brutality on their cell phones or cameras had their devices confiscated.
With China’s announcement that the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) has become the “energy base of China,” Chinese mining companies and private miners poured into the Southern Mongolian grasslands to open up hundreds of coal mines, forcibly displacing the local herders, destroying their grazing land, and killing their livestock.
Frustrated herders organized to block the Chinese mining trucks from passing through their grazing land. On May 10, 2011, Mr. Mergen, one of the organizers of the Mongolian herders of Right Ujumchin Banner, was brutally killed by a Chinese truck driver while he was blocking a caravan of hundreds of Chinese coal haulers from passing through his grazing land on May 10, 2011.
Reportedly, instead of bringing the murderer and those who violated the rights of the herders to justice in accordance with the law, the Banner Government tried to appease the family members of Mergen and local herders by giving a large sum of cash to Mergen’s widowed wife and mother. The Chinese authorities’ bribery-like handling of the case not only failed to calm the Mongolian herders but further angered them, inciting them to take to the streets to demand their rights and dignity be respected.
Fearing possible unrest among the herders, the local government mobilized more than 300 armed police to prevent any kind of protest or gathering.
“Hotels were searched at midnight by the Public Security Bureau personnel for herders possibly hiding to join any protest; Mongolian students were locked up in their schools, and campuses are heavily guarded by police,” a Mongolian blogger wrote, describing the tension between the Mongolians and the local authorities.
According to another blog article, on May 21, all principals of the schools in Right Ujumchin Banner were called to an urgent meeting by the Educational Bureau and were told to have a complete control over their teachers and students to prevent them from joining any Internet discussions about Mergen’s case.
Despite this tight control over the Internet, Mongolian bloggers are expressing their grievances and rallying the Southern Mongolians to stage a mass protest to demand their rights. A call-on paper is widely circulated through the Internet among the Southern Mongolians to organize a large-scale demonstration at the Xinhua Square in front of the IMAR Government and the Inner Mongolia TV Station in the regional capital Hohhot City to protest the government’s failure to redress Mergen’s case and the Inner Mongolia TV’s intentional inaction in covering the case. The proposed demonstration date is May 30, 2011, and the expected participants are the thousands of Mongolian students from all universities, colleges and other professional schools.
Another online statement called upon all Southern Mongolians to take five minutes on May 30 to mourn Mergen’s death and mark the day as “Herders’ Rights Day” every year. The paper also urged the Chinese government to erect a memorial on the Ujumchin Grassland to honor Mergen as a “Southern Mongolian National Hero and Martyr” who sacrificed his life to defend the Mongol land from Chinese intruders.