KATHMANDU—Chinese authorities in Tibet detained dozens of Tibetan monks staging a rare protest march into the regional capital, Lhasa, on a key anniversary.
An authoritative source who declined to be identified told RFA’s Tibetan service as many as 300 monks set out from Drepung monastery outside Lhasa on the roughly 10-km (5-mile) walk into the city center.
Sources said the monks were marching to the Potala Palace in the heart of Lhasa to demand the release of monks detained last October shortly after the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, received a Congressional Gold Medal in Washington.
Authorities at a checkpoint along the way stopped and detained between 50 and 60 monks, the source said. Witnesses reported seeing about 10 military vehicles, 10 police vehicles, and several ambulances at the checkpoint.
No information was immediately available on where the monks were taken or why ambulances were summoned.
Another witness reported that official vehicles then blocked off access by road to Drepung monastery, and that many monasteries in and around Lhasa were surrounded by members of the paramilitary People's Armed Police.
A source at a nunnery in the area, who asked not to be identified, said authorities had told the nunnery to lock its gates at 9 p.m. to keep all of the nuns inside.
Separately, witnesses reported that nine monks from another major monastery, Sera, and two laypeople staged a loud protest in front of the Tsuklakhang cathedral in central Lhasa, waving banners and shouting slogans.
Onlookers surrounded the 11 protesters, keeping security officers at a distance. People's Armed Police officers later pushed through the crowd and detained them, the witnesses said. The 11 detainees were identified as: Lobsang Ngodrub, Lobsang Sherab, Lodroe, Sonam Lodroe, Lobsang, Tsultrim Palden, Geleg, Pema Karwang, Zoepa, Thubdron, and Phurdan. No further details were available.
Officials contacted by telephone at the Lhasa Public Security Bureau command center declined to comment. Officials at the Lhasa municipal government and Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government said they were unaware of any unrest.
March 10, 2008, marks the 49th anniversary of an uprising crushed by the Chinese People's Liberation Army. The Dalai Lama, now 72, subsequently fled into exile in northern India. Drepung, founded in the 15th century, is one of largest monasteries in Tibet and ranks as one of the most important in the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
In his own statement marking the anniversary, the Dalai Lama called on the world to press China to allow freedom of expression during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
“The language, customs and traditions of Tibet...are gradually fading away,” the 1989 Nobel laureate said.
Tibetans “have had to live in a state of constant fear, intimidation, and suspicion under Chinese repression…Repression continues to increase with numerous, unimaginable, and gross violations of human rights, denial of religious freedom, and the politicization of religious issues."
The Chinese government defends its presence in Tibet as liberation from “feudalism,” noting that it has spent billions of dollars to modernize the region and raise standards of living.
Tensions have been escalating in recent years in traditionally Tibetan areas of what is now western China, with Chinese authorities taking a tougher line against what they regard as ethnic “splittism,” or resistance to Chinese rule.
The Dalai Lama is regarded by China as a dangerous figure seeking independence for his homeland, although he says he wants only autonomy and for Chinese repression of Tibetans to end.
Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Additional reporting by RFA's Mandarin service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han. Edited by Richard Finney.