Tibetans in China’s troubled southwestern Sichuan province ushered in the new year on Wednesday by protesting Chinese rule amid reports that 25 monks in neighboring Qinghai province have been detained for leading a march demanding freedom.
Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, meanwhile, presided over a religious ceremony to mark Losar, the Tibetan new year, in India’s hill town of Dharamsala, as the Tibetan parliament-in-exile held a hunger strike for Tibetans who self-immolated or were shot by Chinese security forces during protests.
More than 60 Tibetans took to the streets in Sichuan’s Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture on Wednesday to protest Chinese rule and pray for the long life of the Dalai Lama, who the Chinese authorities have labeled a “splittist,” a Tibetan living in India said, citing contacts in the region.
The protest took place in Kikor town in Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county where recent demonstrations have led to a bloody crackdown and heightened security.
“This morning at around 6:00 [local time], six Tibetans assembled to pray for the long life of the Dalai Lama. The gathering was led by Tengyal Tulku from Sera monastery in Kikor town,” the Tibetan said.
Tulku is an honorific term denoting a reincarnate lama, called a “Living Buddha” by Chinese.
Soon after, around 60 more Tibetans arrived holding the banned Tibetan national flag and a white banner bearing the names of Tibetans who have self-immolated in recent protests, he said, adding that the protest lasted until 9:00 a.m.
“Police took many pictures, but there have been no reports so far of detentions or arrests.”
Instead, police told local Tibetan officials to control the situation themselves, he said.
Protest leaders held
In Qinghai province, Tibetan monks identified as the leaders of a recent protest march have been detained in a school building near their monastery as Chinese authorities sought to clamp down on challenges to Beijing’s rule in Tibetan areas, Tibetan sources said.
They were among a group 400 monks who launched a seven-mile (11-kilometer) protest march on Feb. 8 from the Zikar monastery in Tridu county in Yulshul (in Chinese, Yushu) prefecture to Dzatoe town, calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama.
They were stopped halfway at a bridge by Chinese security forces, angering about 1,000 local residents who then joined the demonstration, sources said.
Speaking to RFA, a Tibetan source in exile said that since the protest, Chinese officials had rounded up 25 of the monks on suspicion of leading the march.
“They are now detained in a school building near the monastery and are being forced to undergo rigorous political re-education campaigns,” said India-based monk Lobsang Sangye, citing a contact close to sources in the region.
“The detained monks are not allowed to return to the monastery,” Lobsang Sangye said.
He added that four monks out of the 25 being held have been further singled out and taken away by authorities during the last two weeks, with three taken away on Feb. 15.
The fourth, a monk named Sonam Tenzin, was taken away “five days ago,” Lobsang Sangye said.
It is not clear whether the four monks who were removed from the larger group were formally arrested, or on what charges.
Traveled to India
Sonam Tenzin had traveled to India twice in the past, Lobsang Sangye said.
“He traveled alone the first time, and during his second visit to India he secretly escorted around 20 monks and students from Tibet.”
“On his return to Tibet, he was taken into custody and was imprisoned for six to seven months,” Lobsang Sangye said.
Zikar monastery has been watched closely by Chinese security forces since the monks’ protest march on Feb. 8, Lobsang Sangye added.
“The monks are confined to the monastery and are not allowed to go to Dzatoe town. Chinese officials are conducting daily political re-education campaigns,” he said.
The Tibetan government-in-exile, in a statement, has urged all Tibetans not to celebrate Losar this year but to observe traditional and spiritual rituals by making offerings and lighting butter lamps for all those Tibetans inside Tibet “who have sacrificed and suffered under the repressive policies of the Chinese government.”
“We are extremely worried over what is happening and what might happen inside Tibet. Under such circumstances, please do pray for all Tibetans inside Tibet…,” said Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Central Tibetan Administration, as the government-in-exile is called.
'Ruthless and illogical'
Twenty-three Tibetans have self-immolated to protest Chinese policies and rule in Tibetan regions since February 2009.
The Chinese authorities have labeled the self-immolators as terrorists and blamed the Dalai Lama for the tense situation, saying he is encouraging the self-immolations, which run contrary to Buddhist teachings.
But the Dalai Lama blamed China's "ruthless and illogical" policy towards Tibet.
Chinese security forces have beefed up security in Tibetan populated areas in Chinese provinces and in the Tibet Autonomous Region amid the self-immolations and protests.
Last month, Chinese police opened fire at Tibetan protests in at least three counties in Sichuan and Qinghai provinces, wounding scores and killing at least six, according to right groups.
Reported by Rigdhen Dolma and Palden Gyal for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Rigdhen Dolma and Palden Gyal. Written in English by Richard Finney.