Inner Mongolia is part of the People's Republic of China. Ethnic Mongolians there have been fighting for their right to keep their cultural heritage alive. Their most prominent activist is Hada, who has now gone missing.
In 1996 a Chinese court had convicted ethnic Mongolian dissident Hada on charges of separatism and espionage. After he had served his 15-year jail term, everyone was awaiting his release. He was supposed to return home last Friday.
"We donít have any knowledge about his whereabouts. We have been in contact with two of his relatives. Until this morning they have told us that they donít have any official statement from the Chinese authorities about his whereabouts and condition," says Enghebatu Togochog from the South Mongolian Human Rights Information Center based in New York.
Preserving Mongolian identity
The 55-year old Hada has always tried to preserve the religious and cultural heritage of ethnic Mongolians in China. As a student, Hada campaigned to save the Mongolian identity under Chinese rule: which meant language, religion, traditions and customs.
Corinna Francis from Amnesty International says the situation in Inner Mongolia is difficult: "There are serious restrictions on freedom of expression. Any statement of cultural identity is taken by the authorities as a kind of separatism or extremism. They are discriminated against in terms of employment. The Mongolian language is at risk of being phased out in schools and the educational system."
Assimilating ethnic minorities
The four million ethnic Mongolians now form a minority among the eighteen million Han Chinese living in Inner Mongolia. Many say that the Chinese government is trying to eradicate Mongolian culture by imposing Chinese culture on young Mongolians Ė a strategy also used to assimilate ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang in western China.
Hada opened the Mongolian Academic Bookstore in the region's capital, Hohhot Ė a meeting point for activists demanding greater minority rights.
In 1992 Hada and other Mongolian intellectuals founded the Southern Mongolian Democracy Alliance. It was the only Mongolian organization of its kind within China.The organizationís goal was to push for political and social rights for Mongolians. The Chinese constitution nominally grants self-governance and autonomy from Beijing to ethnic minorities.
Hada was arrested and his Southern Mongolian Democracy Alliance was forbidden after a protest demonstration in 1995. Hada should have been released on the same day that the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Liu Xiaobo was being held last week. But he hasn't been seen since.
"Well, some internet posts in Chinese say that Hada is dead and that a dead body was found. But this is not very likely," says Togochog.
Wife and son in custody
To add to the confusion, some photos were anonymously posted on the internet shortly after the supposed release to prove that Hada is still alive.
Just days before Hada was due to be released, his wife and son were taken into police custody. Their whereabouts are also unknown.
Author: Chi Viet Giang
Editor: Arun Chowdhury