Thousands arrested in Inner Mongolia for defending nomadic herding lifestyle

Published (HKT): 2020.09.20 05:54

Thousands of ethnic Mongolians are believed to have been arrested in China’s northern autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, after new policies were put into place to outlaw the nomadic herding lifestyle of its people.

Nomadic pastoralism, which has been practiced by the native Mongols for several millennia, is a form of animal husbandry in which livestock such as sheep and horses are herded in order to find fresh grazing pastures.

Enghebatu Togochog, the director of the United States-based exile group Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, said mainland authorities committed “cultural genocide” after banning the traditional Mongolian nomadic lifestyle in 2001.

Inner Mongolian authorities have looked to further tighten its control over the region’s nomadic herdsmen on July 31, as the Standing Committee of the Inner Mongolia National People’s Congress held a coordination meeting on a legislation bill that would prohibit grazing. Authorities said the grazing prohibition was a “powerful” policy to materialize President Xi Jinping’s ideology, also known as Xi Jinping Thought.

“This was just a policy, but now it will become an exact law. If we violate it, we will be held legally responsible. The situation is much more serious now,” an Inner Mongolian female herder said online.

“We, as ethnic minorities, don’t know anything besides herding. If we are not allowed to do so, how is this different from killing us?” said another.

There are currently 6 million people in Inner Mongolia, of which two-thirds live a nomadic life.

The grazing prohibition has been compounded with another policy to replace the traditional Mongolian language with Mandarin Chinese in some school classes, which prompted large-scale protests. Students boycotted classes and parents refused to send their children to school. Up to 5,000 were reportedly arrested for participating in demonstrations.

Khereid Khuvisgalt, an exiled Mongol activist-scholar based in Japan, revealed that up to nine civil servants and teachers had committed suicide due to pressure from mainland authorities. Parents would also be fined and have their loans declined if they did not send their children to school.

Since 2011, mainland authorities have established a grassland protection mechanism in major grasslands in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, and herders have been gradually forced out of pasture lands. Authorities claimed that the policy was put in place to curb land degradation and desertification. Mongolian herders said the policy was a “big scam” and mining companies would take over the land once they were driven away.

“They (the government) want to move the Mongols out of the land and bring the Han people in…Mines are dug everywhere on the Mongolian grasslands,” said Togochog. “The traditional Mongolian way of living is gone. The Mongolians' pastures are destroyed. And they are deprived of political rights.”

“Language is the last existing symbol of their ethnicity. But the Chinese government wants to wipe the Mongolian language out, so the Mongols could only fight with death,” he added.

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