Southern Mongolia: Imprisoned Herders Continue to Claim Their Innocence in Chinese Court
Photo Courtesy of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center
In 2013, the arrival of the Chinese state-run forestry company Shuang He Forestry in Southern Mongolia triggered protests by local herders. Following the demonstrations, Chinese security forces arrested six herders who had protested against the illegal occupation of more than 3000 acres of grazing land in the communities of Bayannuur Gachaa and of Shinsum Sum. The six Mongolian activists continue to assert their innocence, denying the accusations brought against them by local authorities, and recently urged the regional Supreme Court to review their case.
Below is an article published by the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center
Maintaining innocence after being sentenced to jail terms ranging from one year to two years, six Mongolian herders from Southern (Inner) Mongolia’s Ongniud Banner have filed an appeal to the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region High People’s Court, according to one of the defendants and their attorney, Mr. Huhbulag. The six herders, including Mr. Tulguur, Mr. Tugusbayar, Mr. Nasandalai, Mr. Jargalt, Mr. Ulaanbar and Mr. Munkhbayar, are urging the regional high court to retry the case immediately and overturn the Ongniud Banner People’s Court’s decision on the case made on December 21, 2013.
“After our arrests in late May of 2013, we were initially accused of ‘damaging national unity and instigating national separatism’ during the interrogation by the Public Security authorities in our banner,” Tulguur told the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) over the phone on Wednesday. “Later on, they changed their tune and accused us of ‘sabotaging production and management.’”
“All six of us maintained our innocence and appealed to the Municipality People’s Court after we were handed down long prison sentences, which later were reduced to shorter ones. Tugusbayar and I still had to serve one-year prison terms and the rest served for several months,” Tulguur said in the interview with SMHRIC.
According to appeals and other documents received from the family members and relatives, the six were arrested in May 2013 for protesting the illegal occupation of the local Mongolian herders’ grazing land by a Chinese state-run forestry company called Shuang He Forestry. The 3,300 acre grazing land had long been collectively owned by the entire pastoralist community of Bayannuur Gachaa (a gachaa consists of several villages) of Shinsum Sum (a sum is equivalent to a township) before it was taken over by the forestry.
A clash took place between the herders and Shuang He Forestry in April 2013. Angry herders dismantled a makeshift tent set up by the forestry company and demanded the immediate return of their grazing land. As a result, dozens of herders were beaten, and 12 were hospitalized.
Shortly after the clash, the six herders were taken away and detained by the local Public Security authorities. Later on, they were given prison terms ranging from one year to two years by the Ongniud Banner People's Court. A copy of the 2013 court decision obtained by SMHRIC showed that defendants Tulguur and Tugusbayar were sentenced to two years in prison without reprieve on a charge of “sabotaging production management”; Munkhbayar, Nasandalai and Ulaanbar were sentenced to one year and six months in prison with two years’ reprieve, and Jargalt was sentenced to one year in prison with one year’s reprieve on the same charge.
A recent open letter from Tulguur to Ms. Bu Xiaolin, Chairman of the Autonomous Region, dated March 7, 2017 outlines the reasons for the six herders’ appeal to the high court and their legitimate concerns about defending their rights to grazing land and their traditional way of life.
Pictures published along with the open letter show that local herders gathered to welcome and cheer for Tulguur’s and Tugusbayar’s release on May 31, 2014.
“Despite the intimidation and warning from the Public Security authorities, many of our fellow herders came to the detention center to welcome us on our release,” Tulguur told SMHRIC over the phone. “One of the main reasons why we are determined to pursue this appeal is that we are not criminals. We are peaceful herders who have every right to live on our ancestral land and maintain our way of life.”
“I am with another group of herders in Ar-Horchin Banner now to help defend them in a land grab case,” Huhbulag, a prominent Mongolian lawyer who has long been defending the legal rights of the Mongolians in Southern Mongolia, said Wednesday when asked by SMHRIC members whether it is convenient for him to talk. “As always, I am still being closely followed by State Security agents here, but I can answer your questions.”
Huhbulag confirmed that the appeal of the six formerly imprisoned herders was delivered to the Autonomous Region High People’s Court in April, 2015. “We still haven’t heard any response from them yet,” Huhbulag told SMHRIC, “but we are determined to pursue this case all the way to the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing.”
When asked how confident he is about winning the case, Huhbulag answered frankly, “Our chances of winning the case are very slim. But it is imperative for us Mongolians to be aware of our rights and train ourselves to stand up to defend ourselves when our rights are violated.”