Agam's Gecko
Friday, May 29, 2009
Tsewang Dhondup
Tsewang Dhondup yesterday showed his wounds to reporters in India. The injuries are the result of Chinese troops opening fire on demonstrators in Kardze County on March 18, 2008.
Photo: Abhishek Madhukar / Reuters

ibet's natural resources, and China's desire to have them, are becoming the latest flash-point of contention between the Tibetans and the colonial authorities. In early 2008 the government began coercing residents in Tawu County, Kardze Tibetan "Autonomous" Prefecture (Ch: Sichuan province) to sign documents approving of a major new hydro-electric project located between Tawu and Nyagchu counties. The dam will displace tens of thousands from their traditional ancestral lands, and is being strongly opposed by the local people.

At the town of Wara Mato, the Chinese government recently convened a meeting with residents to persuade them to relocate, and erected a stone pillar to drive the point home. An old woman named Lhamo, believed to be over 70 years of age, led the angry residents in refusing to move and declaring that they are the owners of the land. The residents destroyed the pillar. On May 5 a large number of armed police were dispatched into the affected area, where they destroyed a number of family homes.

Last Sunday morning, May 24, local Chinese authorities ordered residents to assemble at Tawu County headquarters for a public announcement. There the Tibetans were again informed of their forced resettlement. The meeting immediately broke up and turned into a major protest against the plan. The residents shouted at the local authorities, declaring that, "This place has been our ancestral dwelling place for countless generations and therefore we don’t want to leave our homes. We are not going to move away to any other places come what may."

Moments later, officers of the Public "Security" Bureau (PSB) and the "People's" Armed Police (PAP) fired tear gas and violently suppressed the protesters, reportedly opening fire upon the unarmed residents and leaving six women seriously wounded, identified as Tsering Lhamo, Rigzin Lhamo, Dolma, Kelsang, Dolkar and Khaying. These wounded, which included a 70 year old woman, were immediately taken away after the shooting and their conditions are not known.

Meanwhile in Markham County, Chamdo T-"A"-P (in the Tibetan "Autonomous" Region) local residents have been struggling to save their sacred mountain, Ser Ngul Lo, from becoming an open-pit gold mine at the hands (and equipment) of a Chinese mining company. The mountain has historically been a site where Tibetans worship and conduct religious rituals, and their resistance to the mine has continued for months. Hundreds of local residents have been blocking the road to the mine site, and hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to the area.
"The Tibetan protesters are worried," said one local man, who said he was one of eight organizers of the protest.

"The police, the soldiers, and the miners are threatening to move ahead with the mine...They have said they will force their way through and go to the site."
Another local resident told Radio Free Asia that more than 300 soldiers are involved, while another said that telephone lines and cell-phone networks in the area are blocked.
"We can’t reach any of the protesters. Today another four vehicles with roughly 30 to 40 soldiers in them went to the protest site. But the Tibetans all put religious books on their heads and are vowing to resist even if it means sacrificing their lives," he said.
Neither the mining company, Zhongkai Co., nor the Markham Public "Security" Bureau would comment on the situation. The vice chairman of the T-"A"-R Communist Party, Pema Thinley was sent early last month to negotiate with the local population, but they continued the blockade and he was escorted back to Lhasa. On May 16 around 500 Tibetans blocked a contingent of security forces on the road leading to the mine site, a resident told RFA.
"The Tibetans slept on the road day and night and the Chinese group stayed in a school nearby. They were trying to convince us to stop protesting," he said, adding: "The Tibetans declared that they are ready to die to protect the sacred hill."
A local official from the Markham County Business Bureau later claimed the stand-off was close to a resolution, involving promises of no environmental damage and a "certain amount of compensation." However on May 26, several hundred Tibetan businessmen gathered in Lhasa to complain of the harassment and intimidation of the Markham demonstrators.

A local source in Markham County told RFA that the authorities have told the Tibetans that they have no hope of stopping the mine.
"On May 26, the governor of Markham county and Dorjee Nak Nak, head of the land protection division of Markham county, came to the area and appealed to the Tibetans. They tried to convince the Tibetans that the mining plan could not be stopped," the Markham county resident said.

"The Tibetans booed them and they were forced to leave the area immediately," he said.
Following that meeting, which sounds about as successful as the average patriotism re-education / denounce the Dalai Lama for the Motherland meeting, the PAP began to threaten those maintaining the roadblock, around 65 km from the Markham County seat.
"Police repeatedly threatened to run over those Tibetans lying down and blocking the road to the mining site in Takra village, Tsangshul subdistrict…When the Tibetans would not clear the road and begged them not to exploit their sacred hill, the security forces dared not run them over," he said.
The five recent escapees from Tibet, who recently arrived in India after dodging security forces around Labrang since April last year, had something to add about the mining issue. During their year as fugitives in the Amdo hills, they witnessed the explorations of Chinese search groups looking for prospective mining sites. These groups consist of around 15 people, and are sent into various townships every month to explore for new sites. Further testimony of the five monks, on the crackdown at Labrang and their dangerous year on the run, has been published here.

Two more Tibetan men involved in last year's protests, this time from Kardze, arrived recently to India en route to Dharamsala. Monk Tsering Jigme, 24, and layman Maday Gonpo, 41, escaped separately after participating in protests last March 18 and avoiding capture for over a year. Maday Gonpo was an organizer of the demonstration in Kardze town.
"We began our protest at Tachu Do in the center of Kardze town. After we had crossed two bridges, five police vehicles and two army vehicles arrived and attacked us. There were about 1,000 protesters, including about 15 who were leaders."

"Of these, five were detained, while I and others managed to escape. Two of my friends were wounded by gunfire," Gonpo said.

"There was no way I could go home, so I wandered from place to place, mainly in the hills of Nyagrong and other areas where nomads live. At times, I had nothing to eat for two to three days. I also fell ill with a fever," he said.
The nomads looked after him, giving him food and letting him use their horses to keep away from those hunting him. They even surveyed the situation in the town to determine when it was safe for him to return, but the crackdown there was ongoing and he never returned. Tsering Jigme resided at the Tsi Sung Monastery and also took part in the same protest, but he declined to speak to a reporter.

On May 7, 2008, local police issued a public notice calling for the arrest of the two men, as well as 34 others from Kardze, Drango and Serthar counties.
"A reward of 10,000 to 20,000 yuan was offered for anyone who could catch us," Gonpo said.

"We heard that this was announced on television and that authorities also promised the award would be increased this year," he added.
Four more Tibetans who also participated in the March 18 Kardze County protest have just arrived in India. Tsering Gyurmey, Gonpo, Tsewang Dhundup and Lobsang Thubten held a news conference in New Delhi yesterday. Tsewang Dhondup had gone to the aid of a monk, 20 year old Kunga, who was hit by a bullet on the fateful day (Kunga did not survive) when he himself was shot twice. Lacking medical care his wounds worsened (see top photo), causing him to endure extreme suffering in the year since. Tsewang said he believes around 20 people died that day.

Two other men who participated in the same protest, and who also survived in the hills for more than a year avoiding arrest by the Chinese police, were not as fortunate as these escapees. Tenpa, 30, and his brother Jamdo, 25, were farmers in Zakhog Township, Kardze County before the March 18 protest was crushed with deadly violence. The brothers were arrested early this month in Jyekundo T-"A"-P (Ch: Qinghai province). Their condition and place of detention is not known.

But the type of treatment dished out to those caught by the Chinese authorities for protesting, like Tenpa and Jamdo, can be assumed from past practices. Beatings and other forms of real torture are virtually guaranteed, and if the prisoner happens to get too close to death for the authorities' comfort, he or she is sometimes allowed to die outside of detention. Too many such cases have been documented over the past year, and over the years of occupation. A study of two particular murder cases provides extensive details of two completely innocent people who were detained last year, suffered extreme physical abuse, and died as a result — one in custody and the other outside of custody.

The case of Tendar, a 28 year old Lhasa office worker, came to light in a smuggled video a few months ago (and I note that YouTube is pulling down its versions of the footage released by the exile government). On his way to work on March 14, 2008, Tendar saw a monk being beaten by police. He tried to intervene, asking the police for mercy. He was shot (the wound was said to be not life-threatening) and arrested. The physical mutilation he then suffered in Chinese custody was life-threatening (the video is still available here). Please read the above linked report for the full story. After three weeks in hospital, nothing more could be done for him and he finally died at home.

Paltsal Kyab was a 45 year old man who lived in Ngaba Prefecture, and was arrested following a protest on March 17, 2008. Around 100 people peacefully demonstrated in the main street of Charo town that day, but there was some talk among the youths about burning a building. Paltsal Kyab told them not to take such actions, saying (according to his brother), "We Tibetans must follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama's non-violent path. Our only weapon is our truth. The building belongs to the government, but several Tibetan and Chinese families are living in there." Other witnesses also confirmed that Paltsal Kyab had persuaded the protesters not to become violent.

Despite his actual stand on truth and non-violence, Paltsal Kyab's name was put on the government's wanted list. He talked to friends about going to the police to clear his name, but the stories of ongoing detainee beatings worried him. So he left town to stay with a relative. A few weeks later, his home was raided by police and his 14 year old son was detained and beaten up in the police station. The father heard about the incident and, understandably worried for his wife and five children, returned home and voluntarily surrendered himself (Chinese authorities had promised leniency for those who surrendered) in mid-April.

His family had no idea of his whereabouts or condition until officials told them on May 26 that he was dead. Dead of "natural causes" — which included black and blue from head to toe, covered in blisters and burns. Police attempted to bribe his family to keep quiet, prohibited photographs of the body, and barred them from taking his remains to Kirti Monastery for religious services. He was given a sky burial as police officers watched, the preparation of which revealed further serious damage to his internal organs. Please read the above linked report for the full story.

That is what can lay behind those innocuous words, "The detainee's whereabouts and condition are not known."

Tsultrim Gyatso, a 37 year old monk at Labrang Monastery was sentenced to life in prison on May 21 by the Intermediate People's Court in Kanlho Prefecture (Ch: Gansu province), having been found guilty of "endangering state security." He had participated in a peaceful protest on March 15, 2008 in Sangchu County and left the area to avoid arrest. Public "Security" Bureau officials tracked him down and arrested him on May 22, 2008.

In the same trial, 34 year old Labrang monk Thabkhay Gyatso was sentenced to 15 years for "endangering state security" in the same peaceful protest. Both monks have been denied visits from family members for more than a year (since their arrests), and their families were not informed of the trial.

Tenzin Gyaltsen
The abbot of Dhen Choekor Monastery in Chamdo, Tenzin Gyaltsen, sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Photo: TCHRD
Six Buddhist monks from the Dhen Choekor Monastery have been sentenced to various prison terms in Chamdo Prefecture, in connection with an explosion which occurred in Jomda County, Chamdo on January 5, 2009. They were convicted of various offenses including taking part in protests, committing political crimes, and refusing to denounce the Dalai Lama. In the one day trial on May 22, abbot Tenzin Gyaltsen, 37, Nyi-chig, 50, ex-treasurer Ngawang Tashi, 51, Tashi Dorjee, 30, received 15 years of "rigorous imprisonment". Chant Master Jamyang Sherab, 42, got 13 years and Tsering Palden, 36, received 12 years. Nothing is known of the evidence presented in court, nor whether they had proper legal representation.

A number of Tibetans have recently been sentenced to death in Chinese courts, and even their whereabouts remain unknown to their families. By Chinese law, capital punishment sentences must be referred to the Supreme Court within six weeks of pronouncement. That period expired on May 21 for four Tibetans facing execution (one is granted a two year reprieve), yet their families still have no idea where they are. Chinese state media contended that these were "open trials" yet the families were not informed of the proceedings and the defendants had no rights to proper legal representation. Two more death sentences were handed down on April 21. By the way, the previous Dalai Lama banned capital punishment in Tibet in 1913, as well as all forms of "cruel and unusual punishments."

Loyak, 25, from Lhasa area, sentenced to death.
Photo: Capture from Chinese tv
All this is so very discouraging, but I can finish with a glimmer of hope. A Chinese think tank founded in 2003 by prominent lawyers and professors, Gongmeng (Open Constitution Initiative), conducted some social research in Tibet in the wake of protests last year. The resulting report, written by academic scholars in Beijing, concludes that the uprising was directly caused by failed government policies, and the emergence of a "new aristocracy" of corrupt officials in Tibet with no local support. This new elite, loyal only to and funded by Beijing and the Communist Party, concoct propaganda to reinforce their power and hide their mistakes, relying as much as possible on the "separatism card."
Senior Communist Party figures, such as Feng Lanrui, a former State Council strategist, are part of the think tank's circle of advisors.

It also highlighted the tensions caused by a drive to industrialise the region and move Tibetans from farms into the cities.
Beijing's efforts to buy Tibetans' loyalty with "rivers of money" since 1989 have been spectacularly counter-productive, the report says. Private sector jobs go to Han Chinese who migrate from other provinces hoping to get rich and glorious, as Deng Xiao Ping used to say. A founder of the Communist Party in Tibet, Phun Tshogs Dbang Rjyal, is quoted elaborating on the reasons corrupt officials consistently seize upon outside scapegoats for their failures.
"And they will try hard to apportion responsibility on 'overseas hostile forces' because this is the way to consolidate their interests and status and eventually bring them more power and resources."
This is a rare occasion, to have a credible study by scholars within China looking into the hidden side of ideologically self-serving propaganda, and the destructive effects when corrupt elites rely on it to everyone else's detriment. The Party will ignore it, like the Zhao Zhiyang tapes, but at least the truth is out there.

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