Protesters Muzzled Amid Chinese 'Communication Blackout'


Police in China’s Inner Mongolia region have detained at least 23 people following protests last week against a new policy that replaces Mongolian-language textbooks with Chinese ones in classrooms.

The push to use the new textbooks, which started in other ethnic minority regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet in 2017, has prompted protests and school boycotts by ethnic Mongolians in at least five cities and counties in Inner Mongolia.

The 23 detentions were across eight counties. The reasons range from “organizing and collecting signatures for a petition” to “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”

Others were for “flagrantly insulting a deceased former leader of the country” and “sharing videos in a WeChat group to obstruct the implementation of the national textbooks policy.” WeChat is a popular messaging app in China.

The local government is also exerting pressure in other ways. Authorities in Zhenglan county announced Saturday that they had suspended two members of the ruling Communist Party without pay for failing to carry out the policy.

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Police in Chifeng city said Monday they handed over Communist Party members, including two elementary school teachers, to a local party disciplinary committee for investigation.

“There are still many young people, middle-aged people and herders who cannot use Mandarin for basic communication,” according to a Q&A published by the state-backed Inner Mongolia Daily.

“This has become an obstacle to lifting individuals out of poverty, impacting local economic and social development, and an important factor limiting the ethnic unity and harmony in our region.”

Information about the situation has become harder to get, according Enghebatu Togochog, the U.S.-based director of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, an activist group for Mongolian rights.

“Before these things happened, we were able to get relatively accurate information through WeChat groups,” he said. “Now, it’s almost a communication blackout.”

Togochog said many people in rural areas are not sending their children back to school, based on private messages his group has received. But he was unable to say how many.

A high school student who left school with others last week said a teacher had told them to come back to class, and that classmates said their parents’ jobs had been threatened.

“I have a feeling I may be in trouble soon, the parents of a lot of students have been caught. I spoke out, telling everyone to persist,” the student said on Sunday via a messaging app. “But I’ll be deleting this app. You won’t be hearing from me anymore.”

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