Clockwise from top: Khenrab, Tsultrim Gonpo, Rinchen Namdol, Jangchup Ngodup, Dhongye, unidentified women
DHARAMSHALA, MAY 15: The Chinese authorities of Driru County in Nagchu Prefecture have arrested 30 Tibetans with one reported missing following opposition to a mining project by local Tibetans from Markor, Wathang and Gochu in Driru County, Nagchu Prefecture, in eastern Tibet, on April 2, according to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
Mining project at Sebtra Zagyen, a sacred mountain overlooking several villages located in Shakchu (Ch: Shaqu) Town faced vehement opposition from local Tibetans from Markor, Wathang and Gochu.
Karma, leader of Markor Village, was detained in late February for challenging an official order that forced all residents of Markor, Wathang and Gochu to sign a document allowing local authorities to conduct mining activities at Sebtra Zagyen. The villagers were warned that they would be branded as ‘separatists’ if they refused to sign the document. Karma had openly confronted government officials saying he would sign the document if it had approval from veteran party leaders such as Tenzin and Ragdi. As soon as news of Karma’s detention reached exile Tibetan sources, local authorities immediately called a meeting during which Tibetans suspected of involvement in sending the information out were detained on April 2.
Out of the 30 detained in early April, TCHRD has identified nine including two women. Khenrab, 36, is a government official in Shakchu Town and also a member of village cadre team. He was detained for engaging in “separatist activity” after he had lectured the villagers on the importance of environmental protection. His whereabouts remain unknown. He had earlier been detained in 2015 and held for six months at an undisclosed location on the charge of “maintaining contacts with separatists”. He was later released and reinstated to his post.
Rinchen Namdol, 39, and Tsultrim Gonpo, in his 50s, are monks from Drong Ngur Kagyu Phelgyeling Monastery in Wathang. Both monks had been imprisoned for a year in 2015 on the charge of engaging in “separatist activity”. The monastery has been under heightened surveillance for years. The authorities also detained the relatives of the six monks who had brought down the Chinese national flag from atop the monastery.
The head of the monastery, Rechung Rinpoche, 72, was subjected to severe repeated interrogations. Jangchup Ngodup, in his 60s, is a resident of Markor village.
Dhongye, 51, is a businessman and resident of Gochu village. He had won the ‘Clean Environment’ competition held at Sernye village in the past.
A doctor named Sogru Abhu, 39, from Lhegyen village, and Namsey, 39, from Dakra village in Shagchu Town were also among the detained. Sogru Abhu had earlier been jailed for two years’ after he was sentenced on charges of ‘separatism’ in 2009.
One of the two women detained is the daughter of a man called Tsangtsa Lamsang, according to the TCHRD. The identity of the other woman is unknown. The photo obtained by TCHRD shows both women but it is unclear which one is Lamsang’s daughter.
“Local authorities had begun building roads at the foothills of Sebtra Zagyen by the end of last year to facilitate mining activities. Around 5 March, makeshift shelters for labourers started appearing around the mining site along with small Chinese national flags that were hoisted in and around the area. Local Tibetans are concerned that mining would destroy the sacred Sebtra Zagyen Mountain, which is also home to endangered animals such as Tsoe (Tibetan antelope), Nah (Blue Sheep) and Gowa (Tibetan gazelle). There are fears that mining would also cause landslides at another sacred mountain called Drakar that lies on the right of Sebtra Zagyen, which in turn would block the water supply to the local villagers. The Shakchu river and the Khechu river flow alongside Sebtra Zagyen,” TCHRD said.
Sebtra Zagyen, located on the north side of Diru County, is one of the three “secret, supreme places” made sacred by the spiritual practice of the first Drong Ngur Choje Gyalwa Gangpa Rinchen Woser who founded the Drong Ngur Kagyu Phelgyeling Monastery in 1248. Representing the Buddhist practice of taming the body, mind and speech, the Drong Ngur monastery is considered the supreme sacred place of body, followed by the secret, supreme place of speech of Drakar Mountain and the supreme sacred place of mind represented by Sebtra Zagen.
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy has demanded immediate and unconditional release of all Tibetans detained. It also demanded the whereabouts and condition of all 30 Tibetans as well as the village leader Karma be made available to their family members without further delay.
“As a party to international treaties, Chinese authorities have obligations and duties under international law to respect, protect and fulfil human rights of all Tibetans. Branding all acts of environmental activism as ‘separatist’ exposes the hollowness of current Chinese leadership’s claim to “promote ecological civilisation”.