KATHMANDU, March 6: Chinese authorities in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) have given protesting monks until March 8 to return to Jesho Baikar monastery or face “serious consequences,” Tibetan sources say.
The monks left to protest pro-Chinese “patriotic education” campaigns launched after a major clash between Tibetan nomads and police in the area on Nov. 20, the sources said.
“All the monks from Jesho Baikar monastery who left after the incidents of Nov. 19-20 were ordered by the local Chinese authorities to return by March 8, 2008, or face serious consequences,” one source told RFA's Tibetan service.
The source, who asked not to be identified, said many monks left Baikar and joined Sera and Drepung monasteries in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.
“Chinese work teams tried to conduct a patriotic campaign in Baikar monastery, but the monks were uncooperative and many refused to comply—they started abandoning the monastery. About 50 armed police were stationed at the monastery, along with a contingent of work-team members, to enforce the campaign."
“The monks were ordered to condemn His Holiness the Dalai Lama, abandon his photos, and stop listening to RFA...and to radio [broadcasts] from India. Listening is considered a political activity against the government, and the monks were threatened with life imprisonment,” another source said.
“One young monk...suffered a breakdown under this harassment and threat. These work teams who conduct patriotic campaigns were stationed at the monastery for about a month and armed police are still stationed there.”
Twenty-two Tibetans—10 monks and 12 laypeople—remain in detention following the Nov. 20 clash, the sources said.
The clash began in a disagreement between three monks from Jesho Baikar monastery and a Chinese shopkeeper in Baikar (in Chinese, Baiga Shang), Nagchu (in Chinese, Naqu) prefecture.
Nomads demanded release
Police were said to have fired eight rounds of warning shots. One monk was sentenced to two years in jail, one monk to three years, and a third monk to two years. The 12 laypeople are awaiting sentencing, the sources said.
No comment was available from local authorities.
A 14-year-old monk, Tsering Gyaltsen, was wearing a photo of the Dalai Lama around his neck when he was detained, and police beat him severely after he refused to denounce the exiled Tibetan leader.
He was denied medical attention and left in the courtyard of a government building in Baikar town, along with around 50 other Tibetan nomads who went there demanding the monks’ release, the source said.
Freedom of religion guaranteed by law
Several hundred Tibetan nomads gathered in Baikar to appeal for the monks’ release late on Nov. 20, but police refused to free them, sources said. The crowd became violent, ransacking official buildings and vehicles, and hundreds of armed police were deployed to their area.
Clashes followed, and an unknown number of people were injured. Police detained six Tibetans. The next morning, Nov. 21, the crowd of Tibetan protesters had grown to nearly 1,000, according to witnesses.
A county official contacted by telephone in November confirmed that the clashes had occurred and said “county officials went to the area,” although he said he couldn't provide any details.
The incident follows several months of escalating tensions in Tibetan areas of western China, with Chinese authorities taking a tougher line against what they regard as ethnic “splittism,” or resistance to Chinese rule.
In December, two more monks were detained after refusing to sign criticisms of the Dalai Lama and then refusing to pay a 10,000 yuan fine, a source said at the time.
Sources in the area, including former monastery employees, said most of the estimated 180 monks left the monastery in protest in early December. The monastery has remained mostly deserted since then, they said.
In its 2007 report on international religious freedom, the U.S. State Department noted that while the Chinese Constitution provides for freedom of religion, “it limits protection of the exercise of religious belief to activities which the Government defines as ‘normal.’”
In 2007, the government “maintained tight controls on religious practices and places of worship. Although the authorities permitted many traditional religious practices and public manifestations of belief, they promptly and forcibly suppressed activities they viewed as vehicles for political dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence, such as religious activities venerating the Dalai Lama (which the Government described as ‘splittist’).”
Original reporting in Kham by Tseten Dolkar, Dawa Dolma, and Tsewang Norbu. RFA Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.