In an article published on China Labour Bulletin, veteran labour activist Han Dongfang speaks to one of the Inner Mongolian Sha Wozi Ranch petitioners, currently fighting corrupt land expropriation by local officials. In a candid and personal interview the woman (who wishes to remain anonymous) details the consequences of speaking out. Despite technically being legal, petitioning led to a sentence in a forced labour camp and has forced her into hiding.
The Sha Wozi Ranch in Inner Mongolia was originally a horse-breeding facility set up by the military in the early 1970s … It later became a state farm with thousands of employees, each of whom was allocated a smallholding in two arable and three grazing units. However, over the last decade, hundreds of those agricultural workers lost their allocated landholdings as profit-hungry managers sold off pasture to other farmers and investors, leading to serious over-grazing and desertification.
In 2000, managers started to sell off the pastureland to outsiders. The land was sold off in lots of 480 mu (about sixty football pitches), for 5,000 yuan per plot, on ten year leases; 139 plots were hived off in this way. And as the farm’s grasslands dwindled, the managers began to overgraze what was left. The net result was a halving of the workers’ landholdings. The workers mounted their first protests in 2004, claiming that “officials had occupied our land, without approaching the workers or undertaking any kind of procedure.”
By 2007, the situation was growing critical. With the workers dispossessed and the farm “milling with accountants, secretaries and bureaucrats,” who had no understanding of pasture management, overgrazing become chronic.
“Grassland had been blown away by the wind, and was longer workable. The degradation was severe. Our share of the grassland was now very small, and we had no way of getting by. The officials are all madmen. It is as if we had committed some kind of crime by petitioning. We had not broken any law, but they still arrested you”.
In 2007, she [a representative of the petitioners] was accused by the police of “forging signatures for petitioning purposes” (“虚假联名”) and of acting as petitioners’ ringleader. When the workers found out that their co-worker had been accused of forging the petition, “more than 150 stepped forward to state that they really had signed, and that the signatures had not been forged,” she said… In mid-June, she was sentenced to seven months re-education through labour (RTL). However, she was not sent to a regular RTL camp but to a Xilinhot city detention centre, a facility for criminal suspects.