Five Tibetan monks wanted in China for staging a protest at a major monastery reach safety in India.
NEW DELHI — Five Tibetan monks who took part in widely publicized 2008 protests against Chinese rule have arrived safely in the Indian capital after eluding Chinese security forces for more than a year.
The monks—identified as Gendun Gyatso, Kelsang Jinpa, Lobsang Gyatso, Jamyang Jinpa, and Jigme Gyatso—had disrupted a government-controlled tour by foreign journalists of Labrang monastery, in a Tibetan-populated area of China’s Gansu province, in April last year.
Their demonstration, in which they called for freedom for Tibet, came amid widespread protests against Chinese rule throughout the Tibetan region beginning in March.
Hearing after the protest that they had been targeted for arrest, the five escaped in separate groups into the hills near the monastery.
“We lived like animals, moving from place to place. But this was better than prison,” Gendun Gyatso, one of the protest organizers, said in an interview.
After two months in hiding, Gyatso said, he and two friends found themselves surrounded one day by Chinese police. Gyatso and Kelsang Jinpa again escaped.
Their companion was captured and remains in jail, Gyatso said.
Advised to escape
Jamyang Jinpa, one of the monks who spoke to foreign journalists during the April protest, said that he first heard on a Radio Free Asia Amdo-dialect broadcast that the reporters had been invited to visit Labrang.
“But we didn’t know the exact date,” he said.
Jinpa said that he and monastery classmates Lobsang Gyatso and Jigme Gyatso then helped to plan the protest, feeling this would be a “good opportunity” to publicize concerns about Tibet.
“We called for freedom for Tibet and for the release of Tibetan political prisoners, including the Panchen Lama,” Jinpa said.
Chinese troops surrounded Labrang monastery after the protest, Jinpa said, adding that he and his friends then fled into the hills dressed as laymen after a lama advised them to escape.
Asked about the group’s present plans, Jinpa said that they now want only to go to Dharamsala, seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, to meet the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.
Despite their escape, they have no special feeling of accomplishment, he said.
“Too many people are still suffering in Tibet,” he said.
Much of Tibet has been closed to foreigners since a peaceful demonstration last year in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, erupted into a riot that left at least 22 dead, ignited protests in three neighboring provinces, and prompted Beijing to dramatically increase its troop presence.
The Tibetan government-in-exile in India says about 220 Tibetans died and nearly 7,000 were detained in the subsequent region-wide crackdown.
Original reporting by Palden Gyal for RFA’s Tibetan service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney. Edited and produced for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han.