Friday, March 28, 2008

Tibetan monasteries 'closed'

Tibetan monasteries 'closed'
Friday, 28 March, 2008
All monasteries in Lhasa remained closed following riots that engulfed the Tibetan capital, a government official says, amid reports that monks had been locked inside for two weeks.

"None of the monasteries in Lhasa are open... it's hard to say when they will reopen. This issue is beyond our powers," an official with the Lhasa Tourism Administration, who declined to be named, told AFP by phone.

The monasteries were closed in the lead-up to, and following, violent unrest on March 14 that saw Tibetans take to the streets in protest against China's 57-year rule of their devoutly Buddhist Himalayan homeland.

Unrest spreads

Ahead of the riot, monks were involved in four days of peaceful protests in Lhasa that were initially held to mark the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

The unrest in Lhasa spread to other areas of western China with Tibetan populations, prompting authorities to send in massive deployments of security forces to quell the unrest.

China says rioters killed 18 innocent civilians, including three ethnic Tibetans, and two police officers in the protests.

Exiled Tibetan leaders have put the death toll from the Chinese crackdown at between 135 and 140, with monks among those killed, and another 1,000 people injured.

China's atheist communist government has always regarded the monasteries as a potential source of opposition to its rule of Tibet, and has blamed exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for fomenting the latest unrest.

Monks speak out

On Thursday, monks at one of Tibetan's holiest shrines, the Jokhang temple in the heart of old Lhasa, embarrassed Chinese authorities when they spoke out in front of foreign reporters against China's rule of Tibet.

"We want the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, we want to be free," the monks yelled.

The 26 foreign reporters were brought in by the Chinese government for a three-day trip as part of efforts to show that the situation in Lhasa had returned to normal.

The Wall Street Journal, which was on the tour, reported a government official in Lhasa had confirmed that monks in the city's monasteries had been locked inside since March 14.

Monastery blocked off

The newspaper reported that armed police had surrounded the three main monasteries in Lhasa -- Drepung, Ganden and Sera -- and that the foreign media delegation had not been allowed into them.

It also cited the Tibetan government's deputy chairman, Pela Trilek, as confirming that 414 people, mostly Tibetan and including monks, had been detained.

The International Campaign for Tibet, citing sources in Lhasa, reported that monks who had tried to leave Sera monastery had guns pointed at their heads and were ordered to go back.

Monks who have expressed support for the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet following the failed 1959 uprising, have previously suffered harsh punishment.

In one of the most well-known cases, 14 nuns in 1993 secretly recorded songs on a tape about the Dalai Lama while serving sentences in Tibet's Drapchi prison.

The tape was smuggled out of prison to the West. As a result the sentences of the women, who became known as "the singing nuns," were extended.

China has ruled Tibet since 1951, after sending in troops to "liberate" the region the previous year.
Source: AFP

See 2005 report from Radio Free Asia and CNN Report of Oct. 2007:

Tibetan Monks Arrested, Monastery Closed Amid Protests

May 26, 2005: Tibetan monks gather at the main prayer hall of the Drepung monastery in Lhasa for their afternoon milk tea. Photo: AFP/Goh Chai Hin.
KATHMANDU—Chinese authorities in Tibet arrested five monks and closed off their monastery amid rare protests against an intensified campaign to crack down on followers of the Dalai Lama.

Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials took a senior monk, Khenpo Nawang Phelgyal, and four colleagues into custody Nov. 23 at Drepung monastery in Lhasa, capital of the Chinese-run Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), sources inside China said.

The other monks arrested were Nawang Namdrol, who along with Khenpo Nawang Phelgyal is a native of Phenpo Lundup county (in Chinese, Linzhou Xian). The others were not named but were described as natives of Shigatse, Lhoka, and Lhasa.

During the course of the patriotic education campaigns in Drepung monastery, the Chinese officials insisted on the monks’ condemning the Dalai Lama and opposing separatists... But Khenpo Nawang Phelgyal and other monks in Drepung refused to comply, and Khenpo in particular told the Chinese officials that [even] if they were told to condemn Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, they would refuse.

Source inside China
Drepung monastery, established in 1416 and located in Lhasa's western suburbs, is one of the most important monasteries in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. At one time it housed more than 7,700 monks.

Monastery closed off
Chinese security officials also secured the monastery, stopping all incoming and outgoing traffic, sources told RFA’s Tibetan service on condition of anonymity.

The move comes amid a renewed “patriotic education” campaign in recent months aimed at boosting support inside Tibetan Buddhist monasteries for the Chinese government—and at the expense of monks loyal to Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.

“During the course of the patriotic education campaigns in Drepung monastery, the Chinese officials insisted on the monks’ condemning the Dalai Lama and opposing separatists,” one source said.

“But Khenpo Nawang Phelgyal and other monks in Drepung refused to comply, and Khenpo in particular told the Chinese officials that [even] if they were told to condemn [China’s late supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping and [ex-president] Jiang Zemin, they would refuse.”

No further details about the detained monks were available.

I don't know anything about the arrest of monks but patriotic education is going on at Drepung. That’s all I know. I am just staff on duty.

Monastery official
Two days later, an unknown number of monks from Drepung monastery staged a rare protest in which they gathered at the monastery cathedral courtyard and sat in silence, sources said.

Official says monastery closed for inventory, fire drills
PSB officials threatened to remove them by force and sealed the monastery to prevent anyone entering or leaving, the sources said.

“No devotees are allowed to go inside and no monks were allowed to move out of the monastery. There were several Chinese soldiers inside and around Drepung monastery,” said one source.

An official at Drepung monastery confirmed its closure for two days. During that time, the official said, 10 security officials, along with armed and regular police, “conducted fire drills and completed the annual inspection of cultural items in Drepung. The forces came in two vehicles. Now Drepung is open to the public.”

“I don't know anything about the arrest of monks but patriotic education is going on at Drepung,” another official said. “That’s all I know. I am just staff on duty.”

Incident at Sera monastery
Earlier this month, public security officials expelled the disciplinarian at a key monastery and detained one of its monks as part of what sources there described as a broad crackdown on the Dalai Lama’s supporters.

PSB officials near Lhasa interrupted a prayer session at the well-known Sera monastery, according to sources who spoke to RFA’s Tibetan service on condition of anonymity.

“They snatched a ‘request for prayer’ letter from the monastic disciplinarian and fired him… right at the prayer session, and they ordered him under surveillance for one year,” one source said.

Tsering Dhondup, 30 and a native of Phenpo Lhundup county, disappeared from the monastery immediately afterward, several sources said. Tsering Dhondup is said to have been held in Gutsa prison, in northern Lhasa, since July.

Tsering Dhondup’s alleged offenses include writing a “request for prayer” mentioning the Tibetan exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, and possessing and distributing documents critical of China’s rule over traditionally Tibetan areas and supportive of Tibetan independence.

The disciplinarian who read the request for prayer aloud, Changchup Gyaltsen, was expelled from Sera monastery, one source said.

Patriotic re-education 'in full swing'
Other sources, including Chinese authorities, have previously reported a renewed Chinese campaign to blacklist key religious figures close to the Dalai Lama and to “re-educate” Buddhist monks.

The campaign began Oct. 26 in Tibet’s Chamdo prefecture and focused heavily on the banning of the prominent Oser Lama from returning to his homeland from India.

“The patriotic re-education campaign is in full swing,” one source inside China said. “We are divided into small committees of 20 monks. Sometimes we are ordered to fill out forms, and sometimes they give [us] questionnaires, and we have to fill in the blanks. We have to study six books on patriotic re-education…”

According to the India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), the six books are titled Handbook on Crushing the Separatists, Handbook of Contemporary Policies, Handbook of Policies on Religion, Handbook on Law, Handbook on Ethics for the Masses, and Handbook of History of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama fled Lhasa in 1959 after an unsuccessful revolt against Chinese rule. He leads the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India.

Pictures, writings, and video of the Dalai Lama, who is revered by Tibetans, are banned in Tibet, and those found in possession of them typically receive prison sentences.

Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated and produced by Karma Dorjee. Produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Oct. 25, 2007 Report: Tibet monastery sealed

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- At least one monastery remained sealed off by armed troops in the Tibetan capital days after celebrations marking the awarding of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama, reported a human rights group.

In its report Tuesday, the International Campaign for Tibet, which opposes Chinese rule there, cited local sources and said that troops were surrounding Drepung monastery in Lhasa, with possibly hundreds of monks still inside.

The monastery was sealed off after "police stopped an attempt by monks to peacefully mark the honor to the Dalai Lama last week," ICT reported.

"Another significant monastery in the city, Nechung, is also apparently closed," the ICT added. The group described "a tense atmosphere in Lhasa (that) has been described as similar to 'martial law,' with increased numbers of troops on the streets."

"Tibetan sources report a buildup of armed police in the city, checkpoints on roads out of Lhasa, and an order to Lhasa citizens not to carry out any religious or celebratory activities," the ICT reported.

When asked about the report, a staff member at the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson's office told CNN he was unaware.

There has been no reaction from the Chinese government in its state-run Xinhua news agency.

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U.S. honor for Dalai Lama angers China
In a separate report, the Tibet Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, which also opposes Chinese rule in Tibet, said that Chinese authorities arrested eight Tibetans, including a Drepung monk, celebrating the Dalai Lama's honor.

U.S. President George W. Bush bestowed the award -- his nation's highest civilian honor -- on Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama, on October 17 in the Capitol Rotunda.

After the award, China warned that the United States "gravely undermined" relations with China, and it demanded that Washington stop supporting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and take steps to repair ties.

Since its 1951 invasion, the People's Republic of China claims to be the rightful and legitimate government of Tibet. However, ongoing sovereignty disputes have called into question the legitimacy of that claim.

The White House has said it believes the Dalai Lama is calling for more autonomy from communist China, including more freedom for Tibetans to practice their religion.

China, however, sees the Dalai Lama's work as part of "separatist activities."
Video: Anxiety near Tibet's border; the police crackdown in Chengdu, China

Chinese police have been monitoring the Tibetan community in Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, which adjoins Tibet. (March 29, 2008)

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