Chinese authorities have detained 12 Tibetans in a crackdown following the self-immolation death of a monk in protest against Beijing rule that has triggered wider demonstrations, including a hunger strike among high school students.
Eight of them were held after a 100-strong protest march in the Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China’s Sichuan province on March 23 amid chants of "Free Tibet," "Invite Dalai Lama to Tibet" and "Independence for Tibet," India-based monks said, citing contacts in the area.
The Dalai Lama is Tibet's spiritual leader and has led the Tibetan people in exile since a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese occupation. Recently, he decided to give up his political duties to a newly elected prime minister in the Tibetan exile government based in India.
According to the Indian-based monks, the protesters marched three rounds at the market square of the Nadha township in Dzamthang (in Chinese, Rangtang) county before Chinese security forces rushed to the scene, assaulted them, and halted the protest.
"They detained eight Tibetans," including a Nadha township school teacher, according to a monk.
"The Chinese People's Armed Police are patrolling the township, and many other areas in Ngaba are under strict surveillance. They are still searching for Tibetans who participated in the protest march."
The protest was the latest show of defiance after last week's third anniversary of a 2008 protest at Ngaba's Kirti town, in which Chinese police fired on a crowd of Tibetans, killing at least 10.
Separately, Chinese security personnel detained three men, including the uncle and younger brother of a 20-year-old Tibetan monk, Phuntsog, who died on March 17 after setting himself ablaze in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet.
They were held on suspicion of involvement in Phuntsog’s protest.
“On March 22, Phuntsog’s younger brother Lobsang Kelsang, age 19 and also a Kirti monk; his maternal uncle Lobsang Tsondru; and another Kirti monk named Samdrup were detained,” one of the monks said.
Following Phuntsog’s death, the India-based monks said, students at the Ngaba Prefecture High School began a hunger strike in protest.
“Chinese authorities confiscated cell phones belonging to many of the students and teachers, and restricted the movements of students inside and outside the school,” the monk said.
“Because of this, the students were unable to communicate with their families, and little information is now available on the situation there."
It was not confirmed whether the hunger strike was still under way.
Security stepped up
Chinese authorities have stepped up security around the Kirti monastery where Phuntsog had lived, harassing monks and curtailing their movements.
On March 25, a dozen Chinese military personnel entered the monastery and detained a 21-year-old monk identified as Tenzin, the monks said.
"The reason for his arrest and his whereabouts are not known, but he has not been released as of March 27," one of them said. "Every night, Chinese armed police with sniffer dogs are patrolling the Kirti monastery."
Tibetan sources said local authorities had called called public meetings in villages near Kirti monastery and ordered residents to report to the monastery for “security duty.”
Anyone failing to report would be fined 30 yuan (U.S$ 4.60) for each day of noncompliance, sources said.
Citing separate sources in Tibet, the India-based monks said that Chinese security forces had begun to arrive in large numbers in the Tawo, Nyagrong, Draggo, and Kardze Dzong areas of Kham, in China's Sichuan province.
“Their presence in such large numbers is creating fear among the local Tibetans,” one of them said. “The situation is similar to 2008, when Chinese forces were sent to Tibet to suppress peaceful protests,” he added.
Meanwhile, he said, Chinese authorities in the area of Kham Minyag have imposed new restrictions on local monasteries, requiring them to obtain permission from provincial officials before beginning new construction or renovation.
Authorities now must also approve the construction of religious statues over five feet (1.52 meters) high, he said.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan service with translations by Rigdhen Dolma. Written in English by Richard Finney and Parameswaran Ponnudurai.