KATHMANDU — Chinese authorities in Tibet have detained three monks and are questioning more than a dozen others after the monks tried to put up prayer flags celebrating the award of a U.S. congressional gold medal to the Dalai Lama, local sources say.
Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Lhasa city officials also warned current and retired Tibetan staff against any religious activities until Oct. 30, the sources said, including burning incense or putting up prayer flags.
“If they do, current employees would face disciplinary actions including termination of their services. If any retired Tibetan staff engage in these activities, their retirement benefits will be forfeited,” one source said.
Authorities in Lhasa shut down the prominent Drepung monastery for a week after the monks decided to put up prayer flags at the Dalai Lama’s residence in the complex, according to the exiled former political prisoner, Lungrig Tashi.
Tashi, who now lives in Scotland, said sources at the monastery told him three monks were detained and about 15 were still being questioned.
Drepung monastery reopened to the public late Oct. 25 although its monks are still confined to the monastery, while nearby Nechung monastery reopened Oct. 24, another source said.
Tensions over whitewashing monastery
“On the day of the award ceremony, the monks decided to whitewash the monastery. This was a decision of the monastery but government officials objected,” one monk said in an interview.
The monks went ahead and whitewashed the monastery over two days, the monk said, and the government closed Drepung monastery for a week. “There were no clashes…There was no incident,” the monk said.
Government officials in the region, contacted by telephone, said only that Drepung Monastery was open to the public and that no clashes or detentions had occurred.
Earlier reports from exiled Tibetans and the Hong Kong press said Chinese police and soldiers had clashed with Buddhist monks in several towns during a crackdown on celebrations over the award to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader and a Nobel peace laureate.
News of the award and of the meeting between the Dalai Lama and U.S. President George Bush spread rapidly through the region, despite a Chinese government effort to remove satellite dishes and shut down Web sites.
Chinese authorities regard the Dalai Lama as a “splittist” committed to Tibetan independence. The exiled leader says he wants only autonomy for the region.
Original reporting by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translation by Karma Dorjee. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.