A court in China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region on Dec. 31 handed down prison terms to six herders who protested the seizure of local grazing land by a forestry company. Four received suspended sentences and were released, while two remain behind bars because they refused to plead guilty, rights groups and relatives said. The trial took place in Ongniud (Chinese: Wengniute) banner (county), which was the scene of protests last year when traditional lands of the local at Bayannuur gachaa (village) were turned over to the state-run Shuanghe Forestry Co. The six were arrested in June on charges of "sabotaging production management"—apparently a reference to blocking company equipment. The four who were released had to pay "compensation" to the company. The remaining two, named as Tulguur and Tugusbayar, each received terms of two years. The trial was closed to the public, and their relatives were only told of the sentence several days later. Nearly 200 herders staged protests in front of Ongniud city hall in late December as the case drew to a close. "The verdict is clearly unjust, this is a land dispute and not a criminal case," a lawyer for the defendants told Reuters by telephone, declining to be identified for fear of retribution.
In another case releated to the forestry project, three herders from Jir gachaa, Bayantsagaan som (district), Heshigten banner, are on trial and may face up to 10 years on "fraud" charges in a dispute concerning compensation paid by Huang Gang Liang Forestry Co for expropriated lands. (SMHRIC, Jan. 23; NTD, Jan. 8; Reuters, Jan. 6; RFA, Jan. 4; RFA, Dec. 30)