On 19 March 2016, six Mongolian herders were jailed by the Public Security Bureau after staging a protest against the illegal occupation of their grazing lands by the Bayanhuaa Industrial Zone , a mining complex whose revenue reaches 2 billion USD. The situation escalated due to the government’s inability to fulfil the herder’s grievances , particularly in regard to pollution. Following these events, a crowd of herders marched toward the Banner capital to protest and demand the release of their fellow citizens.
Six Mongolian herders, including Ganbaatar, Otgonbaatar, Munkhbaatar, Erdenbaatar, Tuvshin, and Amarmend from Sain-Undur Gachaa, Bayanhuaa Township of western Southern (Inner) Mongolia’s Right Uzumchin Banner (“xi wu zhu mu qin qi” in Chinese), were taken away by the local Public Security Bureau. Later on the same day, family members were notified by the Public Security Bureau that the six herders were placed under a 10-day administrative detention order for “disturbing business order”.
According to information the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) received from family members and friends of the six detainees, from March 6 to 8, nearly a hundred Mongolian herders from Sain-Undur Gachaa gathered near Bayanhuaa Industrial Zone and blocked several coal and copper-zinc mines from continuing to operate on the herders’ grazing land and pollute the environment.
On its official site, the Government of Right Uzumchin Banner states that “taking advantages of coal, metal and non-metal natural resources, Bayanhuaa Industrial Zone focuses on coal processing, power generation, ore selection and metal smelting.” The statement claims that “currently Bayanhuaa Industrial Zone is home to 42 corporations, and its total revenue reached 11.7 billion yuan (approximately 2 billion USD)”.
Local herders complained that the industrial zone has illegally occupied 30,000 mu (5,000 acre) of grazing land from the local Mongolian communities without adequate compensation. During the 3-day blockade, herders urged the industrial zone to immediately halt production due to heavy pollutions of water, soil and air caused by the toxic industrial wastes dumped onto herders’ grazing lands without proper treatment.
In response to the herders’ demands, local government officials met with the herders’ representatives and promised to develop a satisfactory solution to their grievances. On March 17, the Bayanhuaa Township Government issued a written response entitled the “Bayanhuaa Township People’s Government’s Answers to the Questions from Herders of Sain-undur Gachaa”.
“Promises, responses and even the written warning to those mines are just an empty talk,” a herder who is familiar with the recent events told the SMHRIC over the phone. “Those mines are still in production and polluting our grazing land. All these empty promises are nothing but a trick for fooling us herders and backing those mines and factories to continue to extract our natural resources and destroy our land,” he added.
On the evening of March 19, the Public Security Bureau of Right Uzumchin Banner issued a statement on its website justifying the arrest and detention of the six herders. According to the statement, “in the name of petitioning, the six men including a certain individual called Meng (referring to Munkhbaatar) blocked the Bayanhuaa No.1 Coal Field, No.2 Coal Crushing Station and Copper-zinc Mine Logistics Entrance with their cars, disrupting the production of the No.1 Coal Field for 36 hours, No.2 Coal Crushing Station for 54 hours, blocking 61 coal haulers and more than 60 trucks of the Copper-zinc Mine for 26 hours, causing a substantial loss to the corporations concerned.”
The statement confirmed that five of the six herders were placed under a 10-day administrative detention order while the remaining one herder, Erdenbaatar, was placed under a 5-day administrative detention order. However, Ms. Navchimaa, wife of Mr. Erdenbaater, told the SMHRIC that in fact she was notified by the Public Security Bureau that her husband will also be detained for 10 days.
Upon receiving the notice of detention, angry herders immediately marched toward the Banner Capital and staged a protest, demanding the immediate release of the detained herders.
“We have done nothing wrong. What we did was just to defend our legal rights,” another herder told the SMHRIC. “We will all go to the Banner Government tomorrow to demand the immediate release of the six herders and the protection of our grazing lands.”