More than 1,500 people held a mass prayer gathering this week in a Tibetan-populated county in China’s Qinghai province to honor self-immolation protesters who have “sacrificed their lives for Tibet,” sources said.
The Feb. 25 service in the Dzatoe township of Tridu (in Chinese, Chenduo) county followed a subdued two-week observance of the normally festive Tibetan New Year, or Losar.
It also came as Beijing moves to criminalize the burning protests and crack down on Tibetans deemed to have provided support to self-immolators.
“On Feb. 11, the first day of Losar, area residents gathered in large numbers at Yulshul (in Chinese, Yushu) prefecture’s Zilkar monastery to express solidarity with those brave Tibetans who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet,” a Tibetan living in India said, citing sources in the region.
For the first three days of the New Year period, “the monks prayed continuously,” Lobsang Sangye said, adding, “There was no festivity this year.”
'A huge crowd'
On Feb. 25, local Tibetans gathered again at Zilkar monastery to observe the annual Monlam prayer festival and to view a display of sculptures made from butter.
“They prayed for world peace and also held a special prayer service for those Tibetans who have died for their country,” Sangye said.
“A huge crowd of about 600 monks and 1,000 local men and women took part,” he said.
Because monastic rules typically require women to leave monastery grounds by 7:00 p.m, Zilkar monks this year began the prayer service at 3:00 p.m. to accommodate the large numbers attending, Sangye said.
Raided in the past
A total of 107 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze so far in protests challenging Chinese rule and calling for the return of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who lives in India.
Chinese courts have jailed more than a dozen Tibetans, including monks, in connection with the self-immolations in recent weeks, with some handed jail terms of up to 13 years.
Chinese authorities have also deployed paramilitary forces and restricted communications in areas where self-immolations have occurred, with Zilkar monastery itself coming in for police attention in the past.
On Sept. 1, 2012, hundreds of heavily armed Chinese security forces raided the monastery, taking away four monks previously targeted for detention and holding another monk for taking photographs of the raid, Tibetan sources said.
Local Tibetans believe that at least three of the monks were detained for providing foreign media outlets with details about two self-immolation protests staged nearby in June, sources said.
Reported and translated by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.