Chinese police have detained two popular Tibetan religious leaders on suspicion of promoting Tibetan national and cultural identity, triggering widespread concern in the Tibetan community, according to sources.
Kartse and Gyurme Tsultrim, who were separately detained on Dec. 6 and Nov. 29 respectively, are both well-respected figures in Nangchen (in Chinese, Nangqian) county in Qinghai province’s Yulshul (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the sources said.
“Monks and local Tibetans are worried and tense because they have no information about them,” a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity
“Both Khenpos are well respected and popular in the Nangchen area,” the source said, using a religious title denoting a senior religious teacher or abbot in Tibet’s monastic system.
Kartse was detained on Dec. 6 at around 1:00 a.m. in Chengdu, the capital of nearby Sichuan province, a second local source told RFA.
“He had gone there to buy a statue for his monastery in Nangchen,” the source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
The reasons for Kartse’s detention were not immediately clear, the source said.
“[But] he is alleged to have had some connection to incidents at Karma monastery in Chamdo [Changdu],” a protest-hit prefecture in the neighboring Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
“When the monks and local Tibetans learned he had been detained, about 400 Tibetans—both monks and laypersons from about 30 villages in the Nangchen area—signed a petition saying they would protest at the county center if he was not released,” the source said.
“Later, Kartse called his monastery in Nangchen to say he was being held by a group of Chamdo prefecture police.”
The second detained monk, Gyurme Tsultrim, was taken away “in secret” from Takna monastery in Nangchen on Nov. 29, a Tibetan living in exile told RFA, citing sources in the region.
“Local Tibetans suspect he was detained because of a speech he gave during a prayer festival in Nangchen in which he urged the promotion of Tibetan Buddhism, the Tibetan language, and moral ethics,” RFA’s source said.
Area monks and villagers went to the Yulshul county center to appeal for his release, and though both men were at first believed to have been quickly released in response to popular pressure, RFA sources say they are still in police custody.
“Both Khenpos are still being held,” a local Tibetan told RFA on Monday.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the area in 2008.
A total of 124 Tibetans have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom since February 2009, with another six setting fire to themselves in India and Nepal.
Reported by Lobsang Choephel and Lobe Socktsang for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.