Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Incense burning above Rong Gonchen Monastery
Monks of Rong Gonchen Monastery burn incense offerings on a hillside above their institution, defying a directive not to gather in groups, on March 16, 2008.
Photo: Sify News India

t appears the Tibetan exile government's website has been shut down again. I was curious what the authorities would make of their new address, after Tibet.net was taken down earlier this month. I'd read that the responsible authorities in exile were making conscious effort not to use the word "government" in reference to themselves, so as not to antagonize the CCP. They were using the proper title, the "Central Tibetan Administration" instead. The masthead on Tibet.net had always said, "Official Website of the Central Tibetan Administration."

After Tibet.net was taken offline for a few days, they got a new site up and running one week ago today. The new address was Tibetgov.net. Take that? Well, I suppose the url isn't the main problem, but the fact that CTA's information networks into their country have been providing fairly timely accounts and reports of what's going on in there. I presume they've still got all archives backed up, and will be online again soon. How about TibetanGovernmentInExile.net?

But luckily,the Australian office is open. In the April 19th update, it's reported that about 3 dozen monks of Tsang Monastery, in Tsolho, Amdo (Ch: Qinghai prov.) were arrested and taken away on April 13-14, after a raid of the monastery by police and armed forces looking for people who protested in March. A further 20 monks were rounded up on April 17 and taken to the county prison. The "patriotic" re-education program is now under way for whoever is left at at the monastery.

At Wara Monastery in Chamdo ("TAR") the situation is tense after monks refused to be indoctrinated, and local people also objected to the mistreatment of the monks. After several meetings with officials, monks continue to resist and some have left the monastery. There are now only 50 left there, and as they are constantly ordered to denounce Dalai Lama, they are just as constantly replying that they will not do so even at the cost of their lives. All monasteries in TAR, as well as other areas in Amdo and Kham are ordered to fly the Chinese flag over their institutions. Some monastic authorities have warned the government that they can't be held responsible for the resentment and trouble which will follow.

Forced signature campaign meetings are being met with walk-outs by disgusted Tibetans, and several hundred people protested Chinese repression in Nyagchu County, Kardze "TAP", Kham (Ch: Sichuan prov.). In Machu County, Malho, Amdo (Ch: Qinghai) printed speeches of Dalai Lama were found and destroyed, and about 150 monks arrested. On April 17 a large number of monks from Sera Monastery, Lhasa were rounded up and are detained in a brick factory west of the city.

The elderly former abbot of Rong Gonchen Monastery in Rebkong County, Malho, Amdo (Ch: Qinghai) who was earlier reportedly badly beaten in a suppression of peaceful protest on April 17 (see last Friday's article), was admitted to hospital in Siling. TCHRD also has more on Alak Khasutsang's fate after he tried to diffuse the situation.
[He] has reportedly sustained severe head injury during the police crackdown and was said to be in a critical condition. He was also known to be suffering from a high blood pressure.
There are pictures of Alak Khasutsang and Geshe Tenzin Choephel, a teacher at Qinghai University for Nationalities who was also arrested for some reason, on the source page.

As I noted last week, Reuters had a bit different details on the incident than the Tibetan sources, and I wondered if there were two incidents. Apparently there were, and Reuters was reporting the raid on the monastery later that evening, while CTA and TCHRD accounts were of the violent beatings and arrests that took place in the afternoon at the town market.
During the raid, the Chinese armed security forces forcibly flushed out the monks from their houses to the monastery's courtyard and were made to kneel down with hands behind their head. The Chinese security forces threatened the monks at gunpoint. In the raids, the Chinese security forces seized all photos of the Dalai Lama found in the monks' rooms.

The sources also told TCHRD that a dozen of the Chinese security forces in full combat gear were armed with guns. The Rong Gonchen Monastery has been under a severe restriction, and the monks were isolated from each other without any form of interaction amongst them. Since yesterday, armed Chinese security forces have been keeping a close vigil in the monks' rooms.
The Tibetan writer, Woeser, while under house arrest in Beijing, continues blogging. I've previously cited translations of her Chinese language posts (carried on other sites), but now a kind reader is forwarding them to me. In her April 17 article, she has a more complete account of the Rong Gonchen / Rebkong market incidents.

She starts with some background, as there had been a military police disruption of a traditional religious ceremony at the monastery back in February, which led to tear gassing and mass arrests. I covered that incident here at that time. If you read that, you'll see that this area was a centre of resistance in 2006 against the authorities' directives for people to reject Dalai Lama's request for Tibetans to stop wearing furs. The mass burnings of furs and skins were seen as a direct challenge to the government's authority, and they responded by forcing Tibetan television personalities to wear furs on TV.

Rong Gonchen monks protest
Monks of Rong Gonchen Monastery, faces obscured for not obscure reasons, protest Chinese repression on March 17, 2008.
Photo: Phayul
But back to Woeser-la. In mid-March, the monks held a big incense burning ceremony above Rong Gonchen, seen in the top photo. Later, through a senior lama of the monastery, demands were made that the unreasonable restrictions on the institution should be lifted. These demands were agreed to by the local authorities. Yet the forced pledge signing project and other repressive measures continued. On April 15 the police re-arrested an old man and some monks who had previously been injured in the beatings of the February incident. Arrests of monks and laypeople continued until April 17, and Woeser picks up the story in her own words:
This morning (April 17) some monks from Rongwu Monastery went to inquire about the conditions of monks and lay people who are imprisoned by the authorities, the local government ignored them, and did not give any answers to them. On their way back to the monastery, these monks were surrounded and blocked by the military police. First they arrested 20 monks on the spot. The common people pleaded the police and attempted to prevent them from taking action; soon quite a great number of these lay people were also arrested and taken away.

This incident happened around noon. According to a local person, at that time about 100 monks and lay people, who filled four military trucks, were arrested. Among them there was a reincarnated lama known by his Dharma name Khaso, who is a well respected 60-year lama. He was also arrested when he was trying to mediate.

Throughout the incident, none of the monks or lay people resisted, they were just expressing their wishes and appealing. In the afternoon, the authorities dispatched a great number of military police to rush to Rebgong from Xining. It is said that, in reality, they are infantry soldiers who changed into military police uniform and changed their plate numbers as well.

Meanwhile, a great number of fully armed military police charged into Rongwu Monastery, carrying batons and machine guns. They searched all the living quarters of the monks, confiscated all the photos of the Dalai Lama and all the DVDS concerning the Dalai Lama. Many monks were arrested and taken away from the monastery. The local people said that 80% of the monks in Rongwu Monastery were arrested, and altogether at least 200 monks and lay people were arrested.

At present the monastery is rather empty. There are only a few old monks left in the monastery, but even they are not allowed to leave the monastery. The local people's morale is rather low, and they are sad and indignant. Even those Tibetans who are incorporated into the Chinese system are very dissatisfied. Everyone feels insecure, and the atmosphere is rather intense.
In Dartsedo, Kardze, Kham region (Ch: Sichuan) abbots of monasteries in 18 counties were called for "guidance meetings" regarding the "patriotic" re-education progam. Authorities were told that continuing this project will cause the Tibetans to lose their patience, and the situation to become "unfavourable." If the authorities were really concerned about the Tibetans, they should immediately stop these sessions, these senior monks told them. They were unanimous in disapproving of the campaign, which has led to the authorities to put it temporarily on hold in this area.

This update from CTA gives the number of monks arrested at Rong Gonchen (also variously written as Rongwu and Rongpo) on April 17 as being over 430.

So what are these "patriotic" indoctrination sessions like?
In a bid to reinforce control in Lhasa, Party authorities have launched an education drive focused on officials and Party members, the official Tibet Daily reported on Monday.

The campaign to "fight separatism, protect stability and promote development" would focus on "unifying the thinking and cohesive strength of officials and the masses, deepening the struggle against separatism and counter-attacking the separatist plots of the Dalai clique," said the paper.

Party members and officials would be assessed on their "performance" in the two-month drive, which will include television programs and organized denunciation sessions.
Wang Lixiong, a Chinese writer on Tibet (and Woeser's husband) who I often quote here, says the Party leadership never expected protests to last a month and a half (and no sign of ending yet). "The scale of resistance was a shock, because they believed their own propaganda about Tibet, believed everything was under control."

The Times' Jane Macartney gets the atmosphere of these "patriotic" indoctrination sessions from monk Wangchuk (not his real name), whose monastery has long been his home. In more peaceful times, his days would be spent offering holy water and butter lamps to the protector of his temple and to Dalai Lama, reciting prayers for the dead, debating with his fellow monks or spending time with his teacher. But now, with monasteries closed to the public, different studies are required. What used to be a week of indoctrination every 2 - 3 months, is now a daily ordeal.
"This is compulsory. There's no excuse for not attending — unless you're ill and then you have to have a note from doctor. "
Re-education in the morning; giving the required answers to questions in the afternoon.
"Sometimes it turns more serious. That is when the police arrive. They stand beside each monk listening carefully to make sure each answer is correct. If the police come we have to lie. We have to say, 'I love the Motherland. I don't love him'. They don't require you to explain who 'him' is, because we all know.

"We learn from the patriotic education that many things are banned. For example, we can't have pictures of the Dalai Lama and we mustn't listen to what people outside China tell us."
Presumably, chief among those outside people would be "the big, bad wolf" himself. Every Tibetan outside the country (and those inside would be just the same, no doubt) is overjoyed by having the opportunity to meet with him. On hearing that 300 Tibetans were nearby watching his presentation at the Mayo Clinic on closed circuit tv the other day, he just went to meet them in person. Speaking to them in their native language, he told them they must be calm and patient under the current circumstances.

Paula Dobriansky, the US State Department's special coordinator for Tibet issues, met with Dalai Lama on Monday. She had an op-ed in the Washington Post prior to the meeting.
Since 1949, the cycle of protests followed by crackdowns has repeated itself several times, but the end result has always been the same: Control is restored but only temporarily, while the underlying causes of Tibetan grievances remain unaddressed.
I haven't seen any publicity given to the substance of their talks. They spoke briefly to reporters before the private meeting, at which time he told her very simply, "At this moment we need your help."


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