Saturday, August 23, 2008
'IT LOOKS LIKE A WAR ZONE'
n this day of remembrance (hit the candle in the sidebar, and be there or be square!) for those killed, maimed, tortured and imprisoned, let us review recent events in the captive nation of Tibet, as China's big party winds down at long last.
Radio Free Asia, citing informed sources, reports on curfews at many monasteries across the plateau. A lama at Rong Gonchen (Rongwu) Monastery in Rebkong County, Malho Prefecture (Ch: Qinghai) said the monks are now confined inside the monastery. An assistant to the elderly lama Alak Khasutsang (Khaso Rinpoche), who was very seriously injured by security forces in April, said he is now able to walk with a crutch.
At Bora Monastery, Kanlho Prefecture (Ch: Gansu), authorities prohibited an annual ritual dance on August 8. The monastery is surrounded by police keeping 24 hour watch over the monks, who are warned of serious consequences for going outside. Monks at Kumbum Monastery near Sining city report being refused the right to purchase train tickets.
The Times' Richard Lloyd Parry was recently able to get into Rebkong County, and found that during the Olympic period this region was experiencing an uneasy peace. A foreshadow of the uprising-to-come occurred here in February, when a dispute between a Tibetan customer and a Hui Muslim shopkeeper escalated into police repression, and then a local uprising. For now, the fear of imminent violence has given way to quiet anger and hopelessness.
"They have stopped for the Olympics, but after they have finished we don't know what they will do," says Jigdal [not his real name]. "Maybe things will go bad again. Maybe the police will hurt us again. We don't know. But our future is poor; our future is nothing."The tension here was evident, Parry writes, "in the reluctance of many monks and people to talk about what had happened and in the columns of armed police, sporting bulletproof waistcoats and travelling in armoured vehicles, who patrolled the streets by night."
The displays of defiance which took place in March and April were met with massive raids on Rong Gonchen Monastery, an elderly monk told the reporter.
"There are 400 monk lodging houses here and they came into every one," he said. "If you had a lock on the door they broke it. They pointed their guns and shouted, 'Freeze!' and took away our possessions. They took 1,000 yuan (£80) if you had it, or 3,000 yuan. Pictures of the Dalai Lama they broke on the floor, and they arrested many monks. We went to the police but they told us to get out."Computers, cameras and mobile phones were confiscated as monks and lay-people alike were taken away by security forces, their wrists bound by electrical wire. But one thing which cannot be so easily bound up and removed by brute force, is Tibetan resentment.
"They build the roads, they build the train to Lhasa, but they build for the Chinese, not Tibetans," says Jigdal. "They send Tibetans to school, but then there are no jobs, except nomad and farmer. The jobs go to the Chinese. This is what I feel when I watch the Olympics. Because on the television the Chinese smile for the rest of the world, but behind it they do so much bad here. That is why I cannot support the team of China — China, which is cunning like a fox."On the day of the Olympic opening, all towns across Tibet were reported to be under strict surveillance by a heavy military presence, boosted in the run-up to the games. No one is allowed to enter the Drepung or Nechung Monasteries in Lhasa, and no monks are allowed to leave. There is no contact with the inside of these institutions, as all cell phones held by monks have been confiscated.
In the streets of Lhasa, Kardze, Ngaba and other centres, the military is conducting practice exercises for the further crackdown expected after the games are finished -- arbitrarily searching and intimidating Tibetans, and arresting them at will. Such checks are not done on Chinese people. Tibetans who merely receive international phone calls are arrested. Two monks from Jhangkar Monastery in Bathang (Kardze Prefecture) remain missing after months of searching by relatives. Karma Choejor, 27, and Drongpo Rabten, 18, had joined a peaceful demonstration at Sera Monastery in March.
With the continuing prohibition on foreign reporters in Tibetan areas, the world must rely on messages passed along secretly by local people (who risk everything to do so), just to get some idea of current conditions. One exception was a young Taiwanese-American woman who recently travelled in Kardze.
"There's a good reason that foreigners aren't allowed in these places. It looks like a war zone. In Kardze the police are in the middle of the sidewalks. They're sitting in helmets holding their guns and riot shields in rows of 10 or 15. They are outside convenience stores under blue tarps every half a block, on both sides of the road--watching. They're up on raised metal posts with cutout windows--watching. I couldn't walk anywhere without dozens of armed police staring at me. I've never seen so many police and military personnel in one town in my life. Nor have I experienced this kind of heart pounding fear before."Her fear was well-founded -- soon after, she herself was arrested.
People who went immediately to the women's aid reported that Chinese soldiers arrived at the scene soon after, saying that the shooting had been a "mistake." Information received by International Campaign for Tibet indicates that one of the women sustained a leg wound while the other was shot in the hand.
Ngaba is under a 7 pm curfew, and has seen a five-fold increase in the number of soldiers based there in recent weeks. Tibetans registered elsewhere are not permitted to enter the town. Troops have been seen performing military drills on the grasslands outside Ngaba town.
On August 10, Buddhist nun Dolma Yangtso, 34, made a peaceful demonstration in Kardze with the freedom slogans, "Tibet belongs to Tibetans," "Release all Tibetan political prisoners including Panchen Lama" and "The Chinese Government did not keep the promise it made at the time of winning the Olympic bid." Security forces struck her with their driven vehicle, and then began beating her. Dolma is apparently made of tougher stuff, as she continued shouting words of freedom. She was rendered unconscious after being shot with some sort of weapon, and then arrested.
Following the July 18 shooting of monks at Dzogchen Monastery, in Derge County, Kardze (see earlier report), the Shriseng Dialectical College within the monastery has now become deserted after approximately 300 monks who were studying there left the institution, unable to tolerate the current situation.
Six monks from Othok Tharpaling Monastery in Nyagchuka County, Kardze staged a peaceful demonstration at the police post at Sera Monastery in March, where they demanded the release of monks arrested earlier. Lobsang Jampal, 46, Lobsang Jamyang, 43, Lobsang Jampa, 42, Lobsang Jampal, 36, Gyaltsen Norbu, 29, and Thongga, 27, all went missing later the same evening and their whereabouts remain unknown five months later.
On August 2, Dechen Wangmo, 38, and Tseten Wangmo, 25, applied for a permit to travel to Kardze County. Authorities rejected their application. Leaving their village that same evening, they arrived in Kardze around midnight and hid themselves until morning. Their peaceful protest included the distribution of pamphlets calling for Tibet's independence and the immediate return of His Holiness to Tibet. When security forces attempted to arrest them they intensified their protest, so security forces shot them with some sort of weapon, rendering them unconscious for their arrest. The condition or whereabouts of the two is not known.
On August 9, a monk named Tenphel was arrested in Serthar County, Kardze for allegedly hoisting the Tibetan national flag on a telephone pole, and suspicion of distributing pro-independence pamphlets. Drungkhar of Tseshul village and his cousin Aten were also arrested for a peaceful demonstration in the same area. Another man from this area named Tendar was released after payment of 5,000 yuan, but in critical condition due to his torture in prison.
On August 13, Buddhist monk Sengha of Tokden Mindrol Tashi Kyil Monastery in Ngaba Prefecture was arrested and accused of revealing information about peaceful demonstrations to the outside world. The following day security forces surrounded his home and threw out his aged mother, who was living there. The home was ransacked and some of their belongings were confiscated. Sengha had previously been imprisoned for more than three years in 2000 for putting up pro-independence posters and distributing thousands of photographs of His Holiness, with the inscription "We held high His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet and we pray his immediate return to Tibet."
At the end of July, Nagchu County court sentenced Takla, around 22 years of age, to one and a half years of detention. TSC reports that Takla had been arrested last year for distributing pictures of His Holiness, as well as his recorded teachings and speeches against the use of animal fur.
A former abbot of Ramoche Monastery in Lhasa, Sonam Rabgay, was among those monks arrested on March 13 during a non-violent demonstration at the Jokhang Temple. To this day, his relatives have not been able to locate him within the Chinese prison system. Sonam Rabgay was known to have been under close surveillance after he read out a statement to a large gathering: "Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama and immediate resolution of just cause of Tibet."
TSC has mined some interesting information out of state-run Chinese websites on current conditions in Tibetan areas. Police in Malho Prefecture, Amdo (Ch: Qinghai) are closely interrogating those Tibetans coming from other areas, and expelling those who fail to produce local "guardians." In Drachen County, Nagchu Prefecture (T "A" R), Tibetans from outside are obliged to register their names. Anyone without a resident's permit and local "guardian" is expelled. Residents in Marhu village are not allowed to leave it, except for emergency medical treatment. The re-education campaign continues in this area.
In the Golog region of Amdo, all monasteries are forbidden to perform any religious activities or public ceremonies until after the Paralympics are finished. Local and district authorities are compelled to maintain a presence within every monastery, while military training drills intimidate the people outside them. Rigorous military manoeuvres are reported in Drango County, Kardze, under something called the "Committee for Maintaining Peace and Security." In the Tso Ngon region of Amdo, similar military training drills are reported since August 6.
"In one hotel, which had no guests at the time, about 20 soldiers took over upstairs rooms overlooking the street for the entire period. They entered the hotel discreetly so few people knew they were there. They were behind curtains or stood back from the window in some other way so as not to be visible from the street. They were changed periodically by replacements. They paid a small token fee for each room and were well behaved and friendly. All were Chinese. My source believed that an order had been given for that 24-hour period that soldiers could shoot on sight anyone who was seen with a knife or other weapon."One feature of the previously mentioned massive buildup and military exercises in the Ngaba region has been mock protesting for the soldiers to practice their suppression techniques. Images received by ICT (not yet publicly released) show that in early August, troops near Tro-Tsuk Monastery re-enacted a demonstration for other troops to practice their skills. The "protesters" are seen carrying flags similar to the Tibetan national snow-lion flag, and some of these soldier-actors are dressed in monks' robes or in Tibetan traditional styles. These activities may have also been filmed for later propaganda purposes.
During non-violent protests in this same area in March, in which Tibetans carried their flag and chanted freedom slogans, Chinese soldiers opened fire killing dozens of unarmed people.