Agam's Gecko
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Dzogchen Monastery
Dzogchen Monastery, Kardze Prefecture, Kham (Ch: Sichuan). The monastery was founded in the 17th century.
Photo: Sangye Trinley

n unnamed official of the Sichuan provincial government last week denied earlier reports from Derge, in Kardze Prefecture, that two monks had been shot and killed at their monastery. The anonymous official, quoted in the Communist Party mouth-organ Xinhua, dismissed the London Times report of the July 12 incident as "fabricated."

In the official version of the event, six monks were having lunch when an electrical wire ignited a store of "powder used in Buddhist rituals," causing an explosion in a storage area where religious relics were also kept. Two of the monks later died of their injuries, says Xinhua.

The Xinhua report was published 10 days after the monks' deaths. Let us cast our minds back to the time of an earlier killing, this time in Darlag County, Golog Prefecture, Amdo (Ch: Qinghai) on April 28. The state-run mouthpieces reported it two days later, claiming that police had responded to an earlier "riot" incited by "a handful of insurgents," and that gunfire had "broken out" killing an officer, after which other officers "returned fire, killing the suspect."

A report from multiple local sources the following day (also in Times of London) told the actual story. Police descended on the area, where hundreds of Tibetans were taking refuge in the mountains (after hundreds of others had been taken away by the security forces). Police had come to arrest a 22 year-old monk, Choetop, and shot him dead right then and there. Angry villagers then fetched their hunting weapons, and the police officer was killed. Choetop's mother was seriously injured with two bullet wounds and "both parents, a sister, three brothers and an incarnate Rinpoche from the same family were detained." All this because Choetop had pulled down a Chinese flag a month earlier. The mouthpieces had called him an "insurgent leader."

So I'm not saying that Xinhua fabricates its stories, but... well actually, yes I am. It's happened before, and it will happen again. And as long as the insecure Chinese authorities prevent independent journalists from getting open access to these Tibetan areas, my policy is to trust everything coming out through Tibetan sources, and nothing which comes out through the Party mouthpiece organs. If the Chinese media expects to be trusted, it can expect to be corroborated first. The ruling clique ensures that can't happen.

The Tibetan Solidarity Committee had relayed reports of the explosion at the Derge Gonchen monastery before the Chinese media did so, with sources also reporting a scuffle after security forces stopped the annual Cham dance ritual there. This report says that whether the monks were killed by the Chinese police opening fire on the crowd or by the blast, and whether these two events occurred simultaneously or separately, was not yet known.

In any case, sources confirmed the deaths of Delok, around 40 years of age, and Gyaltsen, in his twenties. A monk named Passang and three others were critically injured. The monks of Derge Gonchen Monastery have been refusing to comply with the government's ideological re-education campaign.
The monks have been united in their defiance to the patriotic reeducation campaign citing the reason that the monastery was not meant for political activities and that it must be halted immediately, or otherwise should face the whole community of the monks committed to lay their lives for the sake of their faith.
In a later press release, TSC raises some questions about the Chinese account of the incident. Why did it take 10 days for the authorities to first report it? Why would such an explosive powder -- not used in Buddhist rituals, as claimed by the Chinese -- be stored in such large quantities (716 kg. were recovered after the explosion) in the same location as religious relics? How is it that these explosives were never discovered during the numerous searches of the monastery (not to mention the regular "patriotic" re-education sessions) over the 14 years they claim the powder had been stored there? We await the Xinhua explanation.

Another shooting was reported on July 18 following a clash between security forces and monks of Dzogchen Monastery (see photo above), also in Derge County (CTA places the monastery in Palyul County). I can't wait to hear how this one gets explained away.

Since March 10, large contingents of Chinese military have been camping in the monastery, spending their leisure time going on hunting sprees in the nearby forests -- regarded as sacred by the local people. The soldiers are said to be wearing Tibetan dress on these outings to prevent being exposed. A local lama who had been in retreat tried dissuading the soldiers from this breach of local laws, and was rewarded with severe beatings.
After hearing about the incident, the monks of Zogchen monastery on July 18 at around 3 p.m. went to the headquarter of the township to file a complaint, but were met with officials who right away rejected to entertain their complaint and instead started to threaten the monks. In the melee that ensued the Chinese officials opened fire at the crowd of monks hitting number of monks including Thromtha Khenpo Tsering Sangpo, the incumbent Lopon (master/Acharya) of the monastery. Many of the monks have had their legs and arms fractured. It is yet unknown whether there have been any fatality.
Some high lamas of Dzogchen Monastery intervened and brought the situation under control, but the huge security presence remains (and reinforcements added). There are around 800 monks at the monastery's two branches.

In Drango County, Kardze Prefecture, many monks and nuns of Trehor Chokri Monastery, Ngango Nunnery and Kharser Nunnery have left their institutions in defiance of the authorities' ideological re-education campaign, after their protests fell on deaf ears. Apart from a few administrators and elderly monks, these institutions are now empty. And in another example of their ever-changing wishes, the authorities are now ordering them to be filled again. Senior monks and monastic authorities are ordered to get the monks and nuns to return, with a threat of punishment if they don't.

Four monks in Dadho township, Drango County staged a peaceful demonstration by distributing leaflets while calling for Tibetan independence and long life for His Holiness. Khepa, Thinlay Dorje, Rinchen Dorje and Gonpo successfully escaped after their protest and have not been caught, may the mountain deities protect them.

Three people were sentenced for participating in peaceful protest during March in Machu County, Kanlho Prefecture (Ch: Gansu). The prefecture's "People's Middle Court" ruled on June 15, sending Lama Kyab to prison for 15 years, 30 year-old Khechok to prison for 13 years, and 16 year-old Konchok to prison for 12 years.

In Kardze County two brothers, Lobsang, 20, and Dorje, 30, were arrested for peacefully protesting on June 11 after distributing leaflets and shouting freedom slogans calling for the return of Dalai Lama, religious freedom, civil rights for minority nationalities and Tibet for Tibetans. They were overpowered by PAP officers after they shot Dorje and seriously wounded him. Two other Tibetans in Kardze County, Tashi Dorje and Thupten Phuntsok were also arrested (along with unidentified others) for staging an earlier demonstration.

An unidentified young monk from Langna Monastery, Kardze County, held a solo demonstration in front of the county People's Armed Police headquarters on the 15th of (June or July, not clear). He began shouting freedom slogans, evading around 10 armed police officers until they shot him with rubber bullets, rendering him unconscious. He was tossed into a police van and taken away.

Ethnic Tibetan officials are being set up against monks in Drango County, Kardze, where township and county level officials are required to monitor and indoctrinate abbots and high ranking lamas, while more than 120 low level officials are assigned monitoring and re-education duties in the general monk population. If any monks are found to be disobedient or participate in any protests, the Tibetan official assigned to him will be punished by losing his job.

According to this decree, if more than 30% of monks in any monastery were found to be inclined to protest after the institution had been "cleansed" of "separatist forces," that monastery would face closure. In the event of a permanent closure, the monastery would be confiscated by the state.

In a later release, TSC gives more details of these new features of the crackdown, in a public decree released by the Kardze Tibetan "Autonomous" Prefecture authorities. The decree warns of such punishments as arrest, raids and searches, restrictions on religious functions, controls on movement and more, if 10% - 30% of monks or nuns in any institution are inclined to protest (how about 40%?). If any such monks belong to the "Democratic Management Commitee," he will be immediately "reformed."

Those who do not comply with the "cleansing" of the monastery would be immediately expelled, their right to be a spiritual figure will be "terminated," and their accomodations destroyed. The order aims at substantial reductions in numbers of monks and nuns. If closure of an institution results from continuing protest activity, the "Democratic Management Committee" will take the blame.
The order also fastens its clutches on the leading lamas, abbots and Trulkus of the monasteries requiring them to control and supervise the general monks, otherwise which, the order warns, those found to be lackluster and non-cooperative, and acting with two faces would be subjected to "struggle sessions" of self evaluation among the monks assembly and written acceptance of their "mistakes". Those Trulkus, Geshes and other members of the Democratic Management Committee who are found to be involved in supporting and sustaining the activities of protesters would be severely dealt with and their memberships from the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC) and Buddhist Association would be withdrawn. They would be debarred from conducting religious activities then on and, the order further says, they would lose the right to have a reincarnation.
Tulkus have already lost the "right" to reincarnate: a law implimented last September requires them to get the CCP's written permission beforehand! Is there anyone still in doubt that the Chinese government aims to obliterate the Tibetan Buddhist civilisation?

Kelsang Lhamo's daughter, nun Tsewang Khando of Drakar Nunnery in Kardze, was arrested on May 28 while holding a peaceful demonstration at county headquarters (previously reported). Kelsang Lhamo was subjected to intense questioning and pressure from Chinese authorities after her daughter's imprisonment, leading to a serious deterioration of her health. Kelsang Lhamo died on June 27.

Wutai Shan
Wutai Shan, a Buddhist place of pilgrimage in Shanxi Province, China.
Photo: Doron
A Buddhist pilgrimage place in China has now become involved in the Tibet crackdown. Mount Wutai Shan is a Buddhist site in China, to which the Dalai Lama has often said he would dearly appreciate the opportunity to make a pilgrimage.

A Tibetan Buddhist monk named Tsezin has spent many years there, and had built around ten retreat huts at the site with contributions from a patron, with the intent to alleviate the sufferings of other monks and pilgrims without shelter. Tsezin's retreat facility was called Pema Gon, and his gesture was said to be greatly appreciated by the visiting pilgrims.

After the outbreak of demonstrations in Tibet, the Chinese government ordered all Tibetan monks in retreat at Mount Wutai Shan to leave. Tsezin had to return to his home area in Golog Ponkor, leaving Pema Gon in care of a Chinese monk. The Chinese monk was also expelled on July 19, and all the retreat's belongings were confiscated by security forces, including around ten precious statues and ten scroll paintings of Buddhist deities. The next day Pema Gon was completely destroyed, leaving not a trace.

Drepung and Nechung Monasteries in Lhasa are reported to remain closed to the Tibetan public, who are thrown out if found inside (journalist Kathleen McLaughlin, whose brief permit to report from Lhasa ended on Monday, confirms the ban on non-Tibetans as well, writing that it is now a sealed re-education camp for up to 1,000 monks).

Tsewang Rigzin of Dawu County, Kardze was arrested on June 13 for taking part in and photographing an earlier protest. Another unidentified Tibetan was arrested with him. At another peaceful demonstration not previously reported, Sogyal, 35, protested Chinese policy in Markham County, Chamdo Prefecture ("TAR") on May 15. At the beginning of June, Gyurmey Wangdak also protested in the same district. Both were arrested and later transfered to Chamdo Prison.

One year ago, Ronggyal Adrak spoke his mind at the annual Lithang horse racing festival, and was sent to prison. The tired, old re-education campaign descended immediately on Lithang County. When it reached Kharshul village, the imprisoned free-speaker's nephew, Atruk Kyalgyam, expressed himself openly and opposed the ideological "re-grooving." He was arrested in early September 2007. On July 14, after nearly a year's detention, Atruk Kyalgyam was sentenced in Dartsedo (capital of Kardze Prefecture) to five years in prison.

Three more people have been arrested in Serthar County on suspicion of joining protests in March. Tendhar, Soelo and Lhagyal, each from a different village in Serthar, were arrested on July 5, 6 and 15 respectively. The whereabouts of 18 arrested people from Lota township and five arrested people from Akham township (both in Ngaba County) more than four months ago, remain unknown.

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