Chinese authorities in western China’s Qinghai province have arrested a police officer they say is the lead suspect in the murder of a Tibetan monk, according to local sources and officials.
The suspect, surnamed Ma and believed to be in his 30s, is the head of the public security bureau (PSB) branch assigned to the Jachung monastery in Tsapon township, in Tsoshar (in Chinese, Haidong) prefecture’s Bayan Khar (Hualong) county.
Ma is accused of killing the Venerable Phelgye, also known as Dragmar, a 43-year-old monk who had served as the accountant and treasurer of the Jachung monastery for three years. Ma had been posted to Jachung five years earlier and lived next to Phelgye, with whom he was well acquainted, on the monastery grounds.
Bayan Khar county authorities notified the monks of Jachung monastery that they had located Phelgye’s body on July 1, approximately 10 days after the report of his disappearance.
A local source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that upon learning that Bayan Khar county police were in possession of Phelgye’s body, around 150 of the 300 monks from Jachung immediately went to claim it, but were confronted by “thousands” of police who prevented them from doing so.
“On the way, the monks were stopped by thousands of police. Following the encounter, the police detained five monks. Two monks were injured in the scuffle,” the source said.
“The detained monks were later released.”
The source said that in the evening of July 1, a judicial officer from Tsoshar prefecture, the Bayan Khar county chairman, and a number of other Chinese officials met with the Tibetan community in the area and briefed them on the investigation of Phelgye’s death.
“The local Chinese officials said that the head of the Jachung monastery PSB, Ma, had confessed to the killing of the monk,” the source said.
“They said his motive was money and that it had nothing to do with an administrative issue or ethnic tension.”
Authorities told the Tibetans that Phelgye had received a request on June 19 to perform a religious ceremony at the residence of a friend of PSB officer Ma in Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, located about 150 kilometers (95 miles) away from Tsapon.
They said that Ma had accompanied Phelgye and, during the journey, demanded that the monk give him the key to the monastery and tell him where the monastery’s money was kept.
When Phelgye refused, they said, Ma suffocated the monk by stuffing clothing into his mouth.
The source said the authorities informed the public that an investigation is still underway and assured them that the suspect would be dealt with in accordance with the law. They said that they are also investigating whether any money had been stolen from Jachung monastery.
He said that when many of the local monks and laypeople demanded to go to the Bayan Khar county police station to retrieve Phelgye’s body and to see for themselves that Ma had been arrested, police refused before eventually relenting and allowing around a dozen monks to go.
“But the Chinese made them perform the cremation on the return trip, against the wishes of the monks, who wanted to carry out the ceremony at the monastery,” he said.
Mistrust of authorities
The source said that Tibetans were distrustful of the local authorities and did not believe that they had arrested Ma.
“The death of a monk by the hand of a high-ranking police officer is much discussed amongst the local Tibetan people,” he said.
“They are suspicious of the suspect’s alleged arrest and they are increasingly showing their dislike to the police.”
He said that police are currently guarding Jachung monastery and that security forces had been sent in to suppress any sign of dissent by local Tibetans.
Last year, the source said, the Bayan Khar county PSB had demanded a list of the Jachung monastery financial assets, but monks refused to provide them with the information.
Reported by Chakmo Tso for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.