Tibetan Dam Protesters Detained

Authorities vow to continue work on a controversial project.
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A map shows the site of the standoff.
A map shows the site of the standoff.

Chinese authorities in Tibet have clamped down on protests against construction near a sacred mountain, holding protesters in jail and warning local Tibetans against further demonstrations, according to Tibetan sources.

Beginning in September, Tibetans in Driru [in Chinese, Biru] county in the Nagchu Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) have challenged Chinese work crews trying to build a dam at Naglha Dzamba mountain, a traditional site of worship and offerings.

Protesters believe that the Chinese are there not just to build a dam, but to begin mining in the area, according to a report from the region.

A Tibetan monk in India agreed, citing sources in Tibet. “It is rumored that Chinese surveyors found traces of rich deposits of gold in the mountain.”

“Most of the Tibetans who played key roles in a [September] rally against the mining were detained and put in jail,” a source in Tibet said, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing contacts in Nagchu.

“Three other Tibetans who were not directly involved in the protest presented a petition to local officials in Nagchu … All three were immediately detained and put in jail,” the man added, naming those held as Buphel, Tsegon, and Samten.

The three men were detained on September 28 and held for two days, the source said.  They were later released after paying a fine of 50,000 yuan (U.S. $7,500), but two—Tsegon and Samten—were detained again on September 30, the man said.

Work on the project was suspended because of the protests, he said.

Villagers threatened

Local officials also visited villages in the area and forced residents to place their thumb prints on a statement committing them not engage in further protests, according to the source.

“They were told that the dam is a major government development project, and were threatened with detention, life in jail, or death if they persisted in their protests,” he said.

A Tibetan monk in India, citing contacts in Tibet, named two of the original protest leaders who were detained as Dorje Draktsel and Palden Choedrak.

Meanwhile, Ngawang Tharchin, a reporter for the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan newsletter Messenger, said he had learned that “about 10” Tibetan leaders had been detained in the period following the protests.

“I don’t know the details,” he said. “The locals were too frightened to talk.”

Further protests

On or around Oct. 4-5, residents and officials of Dathang town and Tsachu village went to petition authorities to stop construction at the mountain, and a further twenty men were detained with some beaten, according to a source in Tibet. 

Following a subsequent protest  by the women of the village and the town, the man said, authorities promised to release all but one of the detained.

Work on the project will begin again next year, authorities said.

Reached for comment about the series of protests, a Driru county police officer said, “I don’t know much about these incidents,” and provided another phone number which rang unanswered.

A reporter at the state-run Tibetan People’s Radio in Lhasa said that he was unaware of the incidents, but added, “We would not be allowed to cover such events—they would be kept secret. We cannot report on anything that conflicts with ‘a harmonious society.’”

Mining operations in Tibetan regions have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms of disrupting sites of spiritual significance and polluting the environment as they extract local wealth.

In August, Chinese security forces in Sichuan province fired into a crowd of Tibetans protesting mining operations in Palyul county of the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, while in May, villagers in Markham county in the TAR renewed protests against Chinese mines operating on mountains they consider sacred.

Gyegudo county in Qinghai province and Drugchu county in Gansu this year experienced severe earthquakes and mudslides that some Tibetans in those areas believe were caused in part by mining and land excavation.

Reported by Rigdhen Dolma and Dorjee Damdul for RFA’s Tibetan service. Written in English by Richard Finney.





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