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, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.
Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials took a senior monk, Khenpo Nawang Phelgyal, and four colleagues into custody on 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 other three were not identified by name but were said to be natives of Shigatse, Lhoka, and Lhasa.
Drepung monastery, established in 1416 and located in Lhasa's western suburbs, is considered the most important monastery in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. At one time it housed more than 7,700 monks.
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.
Rare, silent protest
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. 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 drill 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.”
Re-education ‘in full swing’
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.
Public security officials near the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) capital, 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. The incident occurred in July but was reported only this week, after several witnesses were able to flee the TAR. 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.
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.