China’s recent crackdown on dissidents and the arrests of activists in Mongolia have brought to light a broader pattern of politicized prosecutions in the country. The arbitrary nature of these prosecutions is also an indicator of deep-rooted issues within China’s legal system. Armed with extensive surveillance capabilities, the Chinese authorities are openly intimidating individuals and foreign entities operating in China. The actions align with Beijing’s efforts to assimilate local minorities and suppress minority languages, similar to what has been observed in Xinjiang and Tibet.
China’s legal system is known for its significant population of political and religious prisoners. Even minor infractions or actions acceptable in democratic countries are met with severe punishments and restrictions on freedom. The shifting redlines defined by the Chinese Communist Party make it difficult for individuals to anticipate what actions may be deemed illegal. Activities conducted outside China or Hong Kong can also lead to prosecution upon return to Chinese territory. Recent cases across the country make it clear that political imprisonment is widespread, affecting individuals from different regions and ethnic backgrounds.
China’s influence in Mongolia has also raised concerns, particularly regarding its language policy in Inner Mongolia. Mongolia which is a landlocked country in East Asia, is dependent on mineral exports to its neighbors China and Russia. Lately, Protests over Beijing’s language policy in Inner Mongolia have become a commonplace in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Organizations like Voice of Southern Mongolia, Inner Mongolian People’s Party, and Save the Mongolian Language are leading efforts to draw attention to the situation in Southern Mongolia.
The arrest of activist Munkhbayar Chuluundorj in Mongolia and the deportation of a well-known Southern Mongolian writer Lhamjab Borjigin back to China have sparked outrage and underscored fears of China’s interference in Mongolia’s internal affairs. Munkhbayar Chuluundorj, a human rights activist who advocates freedom for the region, was arrested in Feb 2022 and charged with “receiving instructions and funds from a foreign intelligence group”.
The case of Lhamjab Borjigin is even more disturbing for the human right activists in the region. On May 3, 2023, a few Chinese policemen reached Mongolia and arrested Borjigin from his temporary residence in the Ulaanbaatar. Shortly after the arrest, he was deported back to China on the same day. Borjigin was earlier sentenced to two years in prison in China in 2019 for writing a book titled ‘China’s Cultural Revolution’.
After completion of the prison term in 2021, he was placed under indefinite “residential surveillance,” a form of house arrest. In March 2023, Borjigin reportedly managed to escape from China and reached Mongolia. According to some activists belonging to the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), his plan was to publish his books in Mongolia to reveal the manner in which Chinese colonial regime was established in Southern Mongolia and how the Mongolian resistance had been quashed.
Similarly, China’s use of exit bans to silence critics has triggered outrage and accusations of political persecution. Notable cases, such as the denial of permission for Professor Guo Yuhua to visit Hong Kong, highlight the widespread application of exit bans on individuals deemed a “potential threat.” Tibetans, Uyghurs, ethnic groups, rights activists, and family members of dissidents are among those targeted. Misinformation campaigns lure back individuals who have sought political asylum in other countries, only to detain them upon return and confiscate their passports.
Safeguard Defenders and Human Rights Watch have expressed concerns about the increasing use of exit bans and tight controls on passport applications, particularly targeting Tibetans and Uyghurs. Detainees facing political prosecutions endure poor conditions, torture, and denial of medical treatment while in custody. Moreover, their families often suffer from eviction and harassment. Beijing’s arbitrary actions call for a greater attention of the global community towards the cases of targeted activists and religious believers. The international support and attention will be crucial in holding China accountable for its human rights abuses and suppression of dissent.