Updated at 10:50 a.m. EST on 2014-12-16
Chinese authorities in Tibet’s restive Driru county were accused on Monday of murdering a popular Tibetan village chief while he was detained because of his efforts to promote Tibetan culture and the economic well-being and unity of the Tibetan people.
Bachen Gyalwa, the leader of Ushung village in Driru (in Chinese, Biru) county’s Gyashoe Yangshok township in the Tibet Autonomous Region’s Nagchu (Naqu) prefecture, was killed on Nov. 21 “on the orders of the local [ruling Chinese] Communist Party authorities,” the India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said in a statement.
Gyalwa, also called Ngawang Monlam, had earlier been arrested and “removed from his post” to make way for a government-approved village head, TCHRD said, quoting a source with contacts in Driru, a county considered “politically unstable” by Beijing and where Tibetans have long resisted forced displays of loyalty to the Chinese authorities.
“[He] was then killed on the orders of the secretary of the Driru County Party Committee,” TCHRD said.
Gyalwa died while in police custody, TCHRD director Tsering Tsomo told RFA’s Tibetan Service in an interview on Monday.
“We believe that his death, which came while he was under the supervision of Chinese security personnel, represents a severe violation of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights,” Tsomo said.
Details on the exact circumstances of Gyalwa’s death were not immediately available, but Gyalwa “had posed a formidable challenge to the Chinese government’s ongoing ‘stability maintenance’ measures that have been implemented since late 2011,” TCHRD said in a statement.
“[Bachen Gyalwa] was a courageous and patriotic Tibetan leader who served the village with utmost dedication for many years,” TCHRD said, quoting a source.
“At the village he built a huge community hall, where he invited Tibetan lamas to give religious teachings and organized prayer ceremonies and cultural performances,” the source said.
“He [also] built a school, where he invited educated Tibetans to teach illiterate Tibetans, including the young and elderly. He helped found Tibetan opera and dance institutes [and] built hospitals, shops and roads in the locality.”
Local authorities have warned Gyashoe Yangshok township residents not to discuss Gyalwa’s death, or to spread news of other recent detentions and arrests, with anyone outside the area, TCHRD said.
“The authorities forcibly took signatures of local Tibetans, making them promise not to reveal any information about the incidents to the outside world. They have [also] imposed other measures of control, including travel restrictions in the area.”
Tibetans in Driru have long resisted forced displays of loyalty to Beijing, which has imposed tight restrictions in the area, including widespread detentions and a clampdown on communications.
In September 2013, Beijing began a campaign to force Tibetans to fly the Chinese national flag from their homes, sources say.
The campaign intensified in early October 2013 when villagers refused to fly the flags, throwing them instead into a river and prompting a deadly security crackdown in which Chinese police fired into unarmed crowds.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 133 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Yangdon Demo for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Bachen Gyalwa's name.