China Detains Mongolian Dissident at Airport

By Reuters
February 28, 2008 Updated: February 28, 2008

BEIJING—Chinese police detained an ethnic Mongolian dissident at Beijing airport as he arrived from Mongolia, a country of which he is now a citizen, according to a report from an exiled human rights group.

Jiranbayariin Soyolt, originally from China's Inner Mongolia, was placed in handcuffs when he landed on Jan. 7 from Ulan Bator for a business trip, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre said in an emailed statement.

Soyolt was a leader of the 1981 Mongolian Student Movement, which was formed to protest Chinese government plans to move Han Chinese into Inner Mongolia, the group said. He went into exile in Mongolia in 1992 and was granted citizenship there in 1997.

His detention has only just come to light because the Chinese government had told his family not to talk to the press “in order not to make things worse”, the statement said.

“Under this threat, family members and friends of Soyolt have kept quiet and waited for his release until fairly recently,” it added.

It is not clear exactly why he has been held, though the group cited him as telling his business partner that it was because there was “some issue with his passport”.

A diplomat at the Mongolian embassy in Beijing confirmed the case, but declined to comment further.

Decades of migration by the dominant Han have made Chinese Mongolians a minority in their own land, officially comprising less than 20 percent of the almost 24 million population of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region.

The government says it protects and promotes the rights and culture of the Mongolians. But Beijing, sensitive about ethnic unrest in strategic border areas like Inner Mongolia and Tibet, keeps a tight rein on minorities.

Less is known internationally about human rights issues in Inner Mongolia, as the Mongolians do not have well-known overseas advocates like Tibet's Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer, the Nobel Peace Prize nominee called the “mother of the Uighur people”.