Chinese authorities in Qinghai province have detained five Tibetans in the aftermath of a self-immolation and sentenced eight students to prison terms for their role in protests, sources said Wednesday, amid a crackdown on assertions of national and cultural identity in Tibetan-populated regions.
The detentions on Wednesday in Dokarmo in Qinghai’s Tsekhog (in Chinese, Zeku) county came days after a 17-year-old nun, Benchen Kyi, set herself ablaze on Dec. 9 in the latest of a wave of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.
“Five people were taken into custody in the Dokarmo area, where a teenage nun [had] set herself on fire and died,” Shawo Dorje, a Tibetan living in Switzerland, told RFA’s Tibetan service on Wednesday, citing contacts in the region.
Authorities detained Aku Tsondru, the 49-year-old head of the Dorje Dzong monastery in Tsekhog, along with a 47-year-old lay tantric practitioner named Chakthab and Shawo, the head of a local religious center in his 30s, Dorje said.
Also detained were two nuns: Choedron, who is in charge of discipline at a local nunnery, and Rigshe, who is the sister of another self-immolator named Sangye Dolma, Dorje said.
The school attended by Benchen Kyi has been temporarily closed, with all students sent back to their respective homes, Dorje said.
Thousands of local people had reportedly attended the cremation ceremony for the 17-year-old nun, whose death brought to 95 the total number of Tibetan self-immolations since the wave began in February 2009.
Since late October, Chinese officials have responded to the burning protests by punishing the families and associates of self-immolators and by deploying paramilitary forces and restricting communications and travel in the areas where self-immolations have occurred.
The detentions in Dokarmo follow the sentencing of eight Tibetan students for their role in protests at the end of last month that opposed Chinese ridicule of the self-immolators and called for the protection of Tibetan language rights.
The eight, who were students at a medical school in Chabcha (in Chinese, Gonghe) county in Qinghai’s Tsolho (Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, were sentenced by a Qinghai court on Dec. 5 to five years in prison, Dorje said.
“The students were sentenced on Dec. 5 on charges of their involvement in a mass students’ protest in Chabcha on Nov. 26. They were either school prefects or class monitors,” Dorje said.
On Nov. 26, more than 1,000 students led by students from the Tsolho Medical Institute had protested over the release of an official Chinese booklet that disparaged the Tibetan language and ridiculed Tibetan self-immolation protests as acts of “stupidity."
Dorje identified the sentenced students, who ranged in age from 18 to 23, as Rabten, Wangdu Tsering, Jampa Tsering, Choekyong Kyab, Sangye Dondrub, Dola Tsering, Tsering Tashi, and Kunsang Bum.
“Other students from this school are still being called to the local police station for interrogation in groups of seven or eight,” Dorje said.
Chinese paramilitary police have also surrounded a teacher training school in neighboring Malho (in Chinese, Huangnan) prefecture, and have detained 18 students, including one named Sangye, in connection with the protests, Dorje said.
Reported by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Rigdhen Dolma. Written in English by Richard Finney.