Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Watching the pilgrims
Chinese security guards watch Tibetan pilgrims on the Barkhor, near Jokhang Temple.
Photo: AP / Greg Baker

hinese authorities imposed harsh restrictions on religious activities ahead of the Tibetan Saka Dawa observances which fell on the 15th day of the fourth Tibetan month, or June 7. The occasion marks the birth, enlightenment, and passing of Lord Buddha (a very important holy day for all Buddhists — in Thailand it is Wisakha Bucha Day, usually in May).
Sources said the concerned government offices in Lhasa had convened meetings of staff members and people under their jurisdictions and subsequently issued strict orders particularly to students and government officials not to visit temples during the festival.

The normal life of people has been affected as the government have sent reinforcement of security forces and deployed a large number of intelligence officials across the city.
The stepped up security featured increased scrutiny of foreign arrivals and continuing investigations of Tibetan families with members outside the country, who are asked to provide their details and contact information to the authorities.

On the holy day itself, more than 200 Tibetans gathered at around 11:00 am in Lhasa’s Tromsikhang Market. They collected donations and proceeded to the Jokhang Temple to offer butter lamps and perform rituals. These observances were reportedly led mainly by Lhasa merchants from the Kham region. It was the same day that Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe was due to confer his city's "Citizen of Honor" award to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The crowd then moved through the open Barkhor street and assembled at the compound in front of the Potala Palace, the official residence of the Dalai Lamas of Tibet. Turning their back to a stone pillar placed by Chinese government and facing the Potala Palace the Tibetans wore ceremonial scarves around themselves and again shouted "Lha Gyalo" ["May the Deities Prevail" -ed.] in unison, sources explained.

A large number of Chinese security forces later stopped the group as they headed towards the monastery of Nechung (Tibet's State Oracle) and forced them to retreat.
At around 4 pm a larger group gathered again at Tromsikhang Market. The police seemed alarmed with so many people gathering and demanded an explanation from the faithful pilgrims. The Tibetans replied that they were exercising their "freedom of religious belief." A number of Tibetans were arrested and all but six were later released. The Tibetans demanded release of the remaining six, and the Chinese authorities promised the angry crowd they would be released after their inquiries were complete. But the six — Pedo, Phurba, Dolkyab(Dokyab), Dorjee Tsering and Pema Demay from Kham Derge and Thuppa from Kham Nangchen — were not released. This was not a protest (despite the previous headline) but was in fact a religious observance.
"It was not a protest but a sangsol," or a special offering to Buddhist deities, one Tibetan man, a resident of Lhasa, said in an interview. The man said he had been detained for three days, from June 7-10.

"Many of us were detained, and it is not easy to give details on the phone," he said.
It is unclear exactly how many were originally arrested, or later released like the man quoted above. But some Chinese officials are not shy about denying confirmed facts.
Municipal officials declined to comment.

But an official who answered the phone at the Lhasa Public Security Bureau said, "No one was detained. It was a religious event."
We continue to receive new details of March 14, 2008 — the night violence broke out in Lhasa following 5 days of violent suppression against peaceful processions of monks and nuns. They were beaten and they were arrested for five days straight, until some of the anti-government protesters themselves became violent and set fires in the city. After five days of seeing their monks and nuns dragged away from sit-down protests and trucked off to the detention cells, many people believed that some of these detainees had already been killed in custody.

Sometime after the riot broke out, the official crackdown came. The very few western witnesses present were all astounded at how long the anti-riot response took to show up. PAP photo/video-graphers were out capturing the scenes for later productions (which later played on state TV with high repetition for months). Having a platoon of armoured riot police marching into these scenes could certainly have spoiled the movie. The Chinese tactic was to take loads of pictures and video first, then send in the anti-riot violence later. When it came, it came with a vengeance.

That night Phuntsok, a 21 year old driver, was at home with his wife and one year old child in eastern Lhasa. He wasn't protesting or chanting in the streets, much less setting fires. His vehicle for livelihood was his "three-wheeler," which I think would mean one of the canopied motorcycle-rickshaws used in Lhasa for passengers and goods. In other words Phuntsok was a poor man providing for his family. Chinese security forces arrested Phuntsok and took him away from his home that night.
"After the arrest, the PAPs beat him fiercely and then locked him — along with other innocent Tibetan detainees — in the storeroom of the Lhasa railway station. He was released after having detained there for 20 days."

On returning home, the source further said, he was given the bests of medical treatment but his condition did not improve much. "At the moment, his physical condition is very poor; he has to rely on walking sticks and cannot stand straight due to back injury that he sustained from severe beatings at the hands of the PAPs."
The Tibetan farmers' boycott campaign, prevalent mainly in Kardze Prefecture, has reportedly taken root in Jomda County, Chamdo. At the end of May, boycott supporters were arrested, beaten and shot by security forces, and arrests were made at Vara and Jobhu Monasteries. All but three of those arrested at the monasteries were later released, but Sonam Palmo (alias Sopal), Lobsang Palden and Yeshe Dorjee are being held as suspected boycott leaders.
Tsering was hit by a bullet and Paga and Lhadher were taken away after being seriously beaten and injured by police with a baton. Samga was also beaten with the barrel of a gun. All these cases took place in Jomda County (Chamdo Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region TAR) in the end of May.
It was also reported that Gyune Monastery was surrounded by armed security forces, and that eight residing retreat lamas were beaten during a night raid. Retreat lamas at Palchen Monastery were also beaten, the report said.

In Markham County, Chamdo, three Tibetans were sentenced for destroying equipment used to broadcast Chinese slurs and abuse against the Dalai Lama. The young men were arrested in October 2008 and sentenced on June 1. Ngawang Tenzin, 19, was sentenced to five years, Tenzin Rinchen, 17, was sentenced to two years, and Tenzin Norbu, 21, was sentenced to five years in prison.

A local source in Jomda County told Radio Free Asia that on June 13 authorities went to six Jomda monasteries to enforce the "patriotism re-education campaign". Three monks and an attendant from Nyedo Monastery were detained. Hundreds of Tibetans from nine nearby villages gathered at the detention centre demanding their release, and several hundred security officers dispersed them with tear gas and beatings.
"One Tibetan named Kalsang who was in the Chinese army and spoke Mandarin well tried to go toward the security forces and appeal to them to stop using poisonous gas. They beat him up," he said.
The monks were later released. Many monks in Jomda are reported to be leaving their monasteries to avoid the government's indoctrination, which requires them to denounce the Dalai Lama. Monasteries have been told they must accept the indoctrination or be closed down. All non-cooperating monks are threatened with detention.

Protests against a mining company's water diversion project in Meldro Gongkar County (in the eastern portion of Lhasa municipality) have sparked a violent suppression by security forces. The large scale project channels water from the upper reaches of the Gyama Shingchu River to the mining site via pipes laid over agricultural lands (which were seized by the government without compensation to farmers). The mining of the upper Gyama region began in 1990, but the loss of their water was the last straw for local Tibetans. Gyama Shen is the birthplace of the great Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo (617-650 AD).

After authorities refused to hear the residents' appeals, clashes broke out between Chinese miners and angry Tibetans on June 20, followed by a police crackdown which left three Tibetans wounded. One seriously injured person was denied admission to a county hospital and was transported to Lhasa. It isn't known whether that person survived. After the incident, representatives from every family in the affected farming villages protested at the local government office.

Water for irrigation has been cut off in Gyama Township by the mine project, and last year toxic mining wastes were dumped into the river causing many livestock and wild animal deaths. The fifteen villages in the valley depend on the river for their water, but since the destruction of its source by the diversion project, the river has dried up as have many of the area's natural springs. Pastures are parched and drinking water is toxic.

The government of the T-"A"-R sent a group of senior officials and security forces to the area on June 21 for a meeting with the residents. After the meeting, at which the locals demanded an end to the mining activity, security forces left the area along with a large number of the mine workers. The demonstration at the township government office continued until the next day, with people seen laying down and preventing passage to the mine site.

A previous mining dispute is reported to have been settled in Markham County, Chamdo. Radio Free Asia reports that the sacred Ser Ngul Lo site has been saved from becoming an open-pit mine, after four months of local protest.
Both sides agreed June 8 that the mine—which had operated in Markham [in Chinese, Mangkang] county, in the Tibet Autonomous Region’s (TAR) Chamdo prefecture—would cease operations, sources said.

"It was agreed in writing that there will be no mining in the area," said a local Tibetan man, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"All the Chinese security forces deployed in the area will be withdrawn. The Tibetans who are blocking the road will also return to their respective areas."

"Chinese authorities will build concrete barriers to block the poisonous residue of earlier mining in the area so that this will not filter down into the drinking water," he added.
There is still no word on the outcome of the strong local resistance in Tawu County, Kardze to the construction of a major hydro-electric project which will displace tens of thousands from their ancestral lands. Protests there have been suppressed with firearms, leaving six women seriously wounded last month.

A reminder of the dangers Tibetans face if they dare to provide information to the outside world was recently provided by the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights advocacy organisation. Gonpo Tserang, a 32 year old tour expedition guide in the Dechen Tibetan "Autonomous" Prefecture (Ch: Yunnan province), was sentenced to three years imprisonment for "inciting separatism" by sending email and text messages during the unrest last year. At the trial in September 2008, Gonpo Tserang was found to have "used the internet to deliberately fabricate rumours, distort the true situation and incite separatism" in his communications with six named people outside Tibet. An appeal was rejected by a higher court in January.

The Foundation notes that this is the first known case of a Tibetan in Yunnan to be convicted on state security grounds since the latest Tibetan uprising began in March 2008. The content of his messages is never specified in either the original indictment or the appeal rejection (both are translated here). Gonpo Tserang was not represented by counsel. Phayul News adds that he has been well respected in his professional career, having trekked with "foreign celebrities" and participating in high profile mountain rescue efforts. This case demonstrates the extent to which Chinese surveillance is able to monitor Tibetans' communications with the outside world, for which the authorities have zero tolerance.

Sat dishes destroyed
Satellite dishes confiscated and destroyed by authorities in Labrang, Amdo, May 20, 2009.
Photo: Invisible Tibet (Woeser)
The Chinese government's goal is for no inside information getting out, and no outside information getting in. For years the PRC has been jamming broadcasts of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America (which both have Tibetan language services), and hundreds of jamming towers have been built in Tibetan regions according to the Tibetan writer-journalist Woeser. The latest campaign of seizure and destruction of satellite dishes began in April and was focused in Kanlho T-"A"-P (Ch: Gansu province).
A Gannan prefecture document obtained by RFA, citing State Council document #129, describes what it calls "unprecedented efforts to collect satellite dishes" to restrict access to long-distance broadcasts in Gansu province, a site of repeated Tibetan protests against Chinese rule during the past year.

Anyone failing to comply with government directives to remove the dishes would be "dealt with in accordance with law," the memo said.
The destroyed satellite receiving equipment is being replaced with cable which carries only government-produced programming.

Chinese state-media mouthpiece Xinhua made a rare admission early this month, attributing the recent suicide of a Tibetan Buddhist monk to "stress." Sheldrup, a 43 year old monk in Rebkong County (Ch: Qinghai province) had been detained following protests at his monastery on April 17, 2008, and was severely tortured in custody (a detail Xinhua inexplicably missed). He was later released.

Sheldrup's name then appeared on a PSB wanted poster and he left his monastery to go into hiding, during which time his health deteriorated badly. Earlier this year he returned to his monastery, and soon afterwards he hanged himself according to Xinhua, which specified the sources of his "stress" to "illness and deaths in his family." The monk had spent around 10 years studying at Gaden Monastery in India, returning to Tibet in 2006. A rash of suicides by monks and nuns in Tibet has been described in a report submitted to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion.

Suicide is a grave sin in Buddhism, and certainly any monks or nuns who choose death by their own hand have been pushed beyond the limits of endurance. Yet another example of the extreme measures taken against them (especially if they have spent time in India as Sheldrup had) was given by a Tibetan woman who recently reached freedom in exile. Tenzin had previously attended a Tibetan school in India for three years, and then became a nun and studied at a monastery in Dharamsala. In 2005 her father became ill, and her family asked her to return to Tibet to see him. Authorities somehow learned that she had been in India, and they made her three-month home visit intolerable. She prepared to escape again, through the border area of Burang. Her group was intercepted by Chinese border police and taken to an army barracks in that region.

Tenzin was taken into a dark room and asked by a soldier whether she was a nun. She replied that she was. She was then beaten with batons and belts until she felt numb and went unconscious. After five days of interrogation and beatings, the group was taken to a detention centre. There, Tenzin was raped by her jailers.
"For many days they locked me up in a solitary confinement cell which was big enough for only one person. Both my arms and feet were handcuffed to a wooden bed. Then one night the light was switched off, and two prison guards came into the cell and told me that I had to take some medicine. I said I was not going to take any medicine. I thought that time that they were going to kill me by giving me that medicine. So I struggled to shake my head while they were forcing to put the medicine to my mouth but they forced me to swallow it down by pouring water into my mouth and blocking my nose by pressing it. [The type of medicine or drug given to Tenzin is not known.] After that, two guards went out and chatting with each other outside the cell. Then moments later they came in, and I sensed something bad was going to happen, I screamed as loud as I could in the hope that someone would come to stop them. But all was in vain, one of the guards covered my head with his coat and was trying to stop me from screaming while the other raped me. Later I fell unconscious. I dont know if that was because of the medicine they gave me or out of fear. I could not feel anything, especially the lower part of my body."
Tenzin was sent to a police department in Ngari (western T-"A"-R) and then on to a "re-education through labour" camp for a three year term of punishment. She was initially kept in solitary confinement. Continuing torture, poor living conditions and lack of sufficient food cause her health to deteriorate, and she was released after about one year because the authorities believed she would soon die. Her family spent nearly all their savings on her medical treatment, and after some months at various hospitals she returned home. Tenzin remained under heavy surveillance and her movements were curtailed. After the outbreak of protests in March 2008, officials visited her home every day pressing her to denounce the Dalai Lama. She re-entered hospital for several months and then resolved to try escaping again. She reached India earlier this year.

Tsundu Gyatso
Tsundue Gyatso, a Labrang monk, has been arrested for the fourth time.
Photo: TCHRD
Two Labrang monks were arrested last month for the fourth time since last year's protests. Tsundue Gyatso, 35, and Sonam Gyatso, 38, were taken during a sudden raid on Labrang Monastery by a large number of PSB officers on May 14, 2009. Both had been arrested and released on three earlier occasions. It is not known where they are being held.

Sonam Gyatso
Sonam Gyatso, a Labrang monk, has been arrested for the fourth time.
Photo: TCHRD
Ngagchung, a monk from the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in Serthar County, Kardze was arrested on July 8, 2008 along with two other monks named Taphun and Gudrak. The latter two (who are brothers) were released after interrogation, but after more than one year Ngagchung's fate remains a mystery. His last known location was in the PSB Detention Centre in Chengdu, the Sichuan provincial capital. All requests by his family to see him have been refused.

The fate of Ngagchung, a monk at Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, remains unknown more than one year after his detention.
Photo: TCHRD
Ngagchung is a nephew of the late (and highly respected) founder of Larung Gar, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok. The Institute had come under repeated and severe government crackdowns beginning in 1999, after authorities decreed the expulsion of most of its resident monks and students. More than 7,000 residents, most of whom had come from China and other Asian countries for study, were forcibly evicted and their homes destroyed in 2001. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was himself detained by Chinese authorities, and he passed away in a hospital on January 7, 2004.

The Chinese government conducted another farcical show tour for selected foreign media last week. For the occasion, the large numbers of paramilitary police which patrol the Tibetan capital changed out of their usual military-style uniforms and into fashionably non-threatening black and yellow track suits. The reporters were taken on rushed visits to a primary school, a monastery, and one Tibetan family's home. The marching track suit-clad patrols of crew-cut young men told the journalists that they were "students" — and some even carried school books to prove it — but local residents confirmed that they were the same PAP squads which have become a dominating and constant presence in Lhasa's streets since last spring.

The reporters were taken to the Jokhang Temple on their official tour, and found it nearly deserted. They were permitted only to meet the "chief monk" who gave them the Chinese government's version of the situation. The next day, reporters saw around 100 monks being returned to the Jokhang in buses.

One monk was able to arrange a secret meeting with an Irish radio reporter. He outlined the political indoctrination classes he and his fellow monks are forced to attend, describing them as "painful." They are forced to criticize the Dalai Lama in these classes, he said, and more than half the monks at his monastery had left because "they found the pressure too much."

The landmark report on the Tibetan situation by the Beijing-based academic think-tank Gongmeng (Open Constitution Initiative), which conducted a survey of Tibetan areas last year, has now been translated into English by the International Campaign for Tibet. It is the first Chinese study to find that PRC policy failings are primarily responsible for the high level of discontent in Tibet.

But the Chinese public is as unlikely to see mention of this report as it is to find any coverage of the Iranian freedom movement in any Chinese media.

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