Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Drango Monastery
Sutra practice at Drango Monastery, photographed on July 17, 2007.
Photo: horses and tigers

ifty years ago today, on March 31, 1959, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and head of the Tibetan state, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, left his country under the hot pursuit of the communist Chinese army and crossed the Indian border, beginning a half century of freedom in exile.

Today we learn that yet another Tibetan Buddhist monk has been killed by Chinese security forces, this time in Drango County, Kardze Prefecture.

The brutal killing of 27 year old Phuntsok Rabten of the Drango Monastery on March 25 comes amid an ongoing farming boycott by Tibetans in many parts of the Kardze Tibetan "Autonomous" Prefecture. A former Drango resident in contact with sources in the area told Radio Free Asia that Phuntsok Rabten was distributing leaflets in support of the boycott as a means of protest against Chinese repression, and to mourn those Tibetans whose lives have been lost in the military crackdown. He was spotted by police and tried to escape, first on motorcycle and then on foot but was cornered at a place called Wada, said the source.
"He was severely beaten by the Chinese security force and died at the scene. His body was tossed over a cliff in order to cover up the death."
Phuntsok's body was discovered later by local residents, who went to the local police station together with monks from the monastery to complain about the murder.
"The police did not accept responsibility, though they admitted they had pursued him. The monks of Draggo monastery and local Tibetans planned to parade his body through the town in protest, but the elder monks of the monastery advised them not to do this."
RFA contacted the Drango Public Security Bureau and was told, "There was no such incident."

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy has also received reports on the murder of Phuntsok, who comes from Zongpa Village in Drango County. A source told TCHRD that Phuntsok had been pasting a seven page document on the walls of a branch of Drango PSB, on the Shara Thang-do Bridge, and on eucalyptus trees along the roads and highways of the county.

His action took place exactly one year after a large and peaceful demonstration in Drango was quelled by gunfire, killing at least one monk and critically wounding at least one other. Hundreds were arrested and subjected to torture. The anniversary of this incident was also not ignored by the Chinese authorities, who had already increased paramilitary troop deployment in the area before Phuntsok's protest.

Phuntsok Rabten
Phuntsok Rabten, a 27 year old monk at Drango Monastery, was beaten to death by Chinese security forces on March 25, 2009.
Photo: TCHRD
The young monk's leaflets called upon the local people to support the farming boycott as a method of civil disobedience and non-cooperation with injustice.
"Let it be, if we die of hunger and starvation, but for those of our brothers and sisters who were tortured, injured, detained and killed in the last year's peaceful demonstration, we must forego planting crops in fields as a gesture of respect, mourning and to express our solidarity with them. Those who had already planted crops in the fields must not tend and reap the harvest. This is a request for all of you. If anyone who still goes on to plant crops in fields and harvest them, I will come with a black scarf to greet them."
He had been pasting these leaflets on the walls of an automotive service centre when Drango "Public Security" Bureau officers spotted him. He fled by motorbike behind the Baatak Nunnery and up into the mountains, but was caught after the bike couldn't climb any further.

The account says that Phuntsok was arrested and beaten with batons on the spot by PSB personnel, and he died shortly afterwards. In an attempt to cover up their crime, the "Public Security" Bureau officers threw his body off the mountain, hoping to make it look like a suicide. The body was discovered by local people the next day, and the colonial authorities continue to insist that Phuntsok died after committing suicide.

In a separate report, Reuters reveals a clash between Tibetan farmers and Chinese soldiers which took place last Friday in Drango County. Local sources told the news agency that farmers had refused to sign a pledge committing themselves to cultivate crops on a certain amount of their land, and armed police were then called in. The forced pledge had been instigated by local officials after a county official had travelled to several villages to promote crop planting the previous day.

It's difficult to reconcile the killing of Phuntsok Rabten with this Reuters report, which says that one monk was killed and eight people injured in the clash on Friday. One problem is that Reuters uses only Chinese names and places. "Luhuo County" is definitely Drango, but the monk killed in Friday's clash is identified as "Panchou Lede" and the location of the incident is given as Dandu township. An official at the county hospital confirmed the monk's death to Reuters, but attributed it to a motorcycle accident.

AP now has the story up, and managed to get through by phone to the monastery. The monk who answered said a monk had died on Friday, but couldn't give details. Subsequent calls to the same number were answered by people who said there's no monastery here.

RFA also reports that on March 25 two monks from the Minyak Monastery in Drango staged a protest calling on Tibetans to observe the farm boycott. Identified as Olu and Thubten, the monks were detained and taken away. Two days later (Friday) government officials came to Pongda village with some farm equipment, pressuring the people to get to work in those fields.
"The Tibetan farmers refused to cooperate," he said. "Chinese police cracked down on the protestors, and about 20 lay Tibetans were detained. Eleven were severely beaten."

The eleven who were beaten were taken, some of them unconscious, to a local hospital, [Lobsang] Gyaltsen said.
This sounds more like the incident described in the Reuters report, in which it said a monk was killed. Gyaltsen also said that the men of six villages in Drango have all "escaped into the hills" to avoid arrest, and that only women and children remain at home. Those who were severely injured in the incident have been taken to Chengdu for treatment.

TCHRD identifies the location of this incident as Da-do village, which is likely the same as Reuter's sinified Dandu township. It says the 11 arrested Tibetans were paraded around the village on March 27, and were last seen in a hospital surrounded by PAP forces.

Separately, a local woman told RFA that a man was arrested on March 23 in connection with the farm boycott.
"A Tibetan named Paga, the son of Tseten Dolma, was detained by Draggo police on suspicion of involvement in the distribution of leaflets calling on Tibetans not to till their land," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We have no information regarding where he is detained or what his present condition is," she added.
A meeting was called by the authorities in Drango the next day, promising fertilizer and other incentives for the Tibetans to get to work in those fields, and threatening land confiscation if they refused.

Perhaps the Chinese leaders are the only people in the entire known universe who fail to see the hypocrisy of forcing cultivation of land under threats of confiscation, beatings and even murder, while celebrating themselves on 50 years of "Serfs' Emancipation" — as though the Chinese Communist Party was the modern incarnation of Abraham Lincoln.

The upcoming G20 meeting will provide an excellent opportunity for leaders of democratic countries to point this out to Hu Jintao in person. Emancipation means freedom, while Tibetans beaten into plowing fields means serfdom.

When the apostle of hope and change — who also likes to channel Lincoln — meets with the Chinese president (who is also a former commissar of China's Tibetan colony), I expect some frank words to be exchanged. Or I expect to be disappointed, one or the other.

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