Tibetan monks at a restive monastery in southwestern China's Sichuan province are effectively being held at gunpoint by Chinese authorities.
The Kirti monastery has been under siege by Chinese security personnel since a young monk from there set himself ablaze and died on March 16 in a protest against Chinese rule in Sichuan's Tibetan-majority Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture.
More than three months after the self-immolation death, the monastery is surrounded by hundreds of police, soldiers and government officials, with the activities of the monks tightly monitored by security cameras.
Meanwhile, at least 300 monks have been taken away from the monastery and sent for "political re-education" while local Tibetans seeking to protect the monks were beaten and detained, drawing worldwide condemnation.
"Kirti monastery is still surrounded by soldiers, strictly controlling movement in and out, and inside the monks are still being subjected to a patriotic religious reeducation campaign," said Kanyag Tsering and Lobsang Yeshe, Tibetan monks living at Kirti's branch monastery in exile in India.
"There are around 400 government officials billeted at the monastery as well as police, soldiers and special police forces openly monitoring the monks' movements morning, noon, and night," said the two monks, who are in constant contact with local people in Ngaba.
They said that cameras and other recording devices had been "positioned all around the complex to intimidate" the monks.
"Occasionally some monks are allowed to go out into town and so on, but they are followed by officials acting as guardians," they said.
Before the turmoil, there were 2,500 monks at the Kiri monastery. On special religious festivals, the number goes up to around 2,700.
Now, with 300 monks forcibly taken away and several hundreds believed to have been expelled or to have fled, there could be less than 2,000 inside the monastery, sources said.
"Normally, the monastery observes a period of religious retreat during the fourth lunar month, when many people from pastoral areas come in hope that the monks will perform 'pujas' for the public welfare and suchlike, but the Chinese government has shown absolutely no consideration for this," said Tsering and Yeshe.
Exodus of monks
The International Campaign for Tibet, a rights group, said that according to new information, monks have been leaving the Kirti monastery due to "the presence of troops blockading the monastery, the risks of disappearance, torture, and detention due to the security crackdown combined with a patriotic education campaign that is making religious practice difficult or impossible."
A Tibetan from the eastern Tibetan area of Amdo in contact with monks from the area said: "Kirti monastery has long been one of the largest and most influential monasteries in the region, and Tibetans there have a strong sense of their national identity."
"Tibetans fear that Chinese authorities are now seeking to weaken Kirti significantly through this systematic campaign against it and against the monks," according to an ICT report this month.
The report quoted exiled Kirti monks saying that two big army tents had been pitched outside the north wall of the monastery, two each on either side of the east and west entrances to the complex, three more at the great stupa west of the monastery, and four at the main (south) entrance of the complex.
"The monastery's new 25-room meeting hall inside the complex is occupied by soldiers and police, and all vacant dormitory buildings in the rest of the compound are also being occupied by soldiers, police, and officials."
The Chinese government has rebuffed a strongly-worded appeal by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances issued in Geneva on June 8 "to disclose the fate and whereabouts of all those who have been subject to enforced disappearances in China, including a group of Tibetan monks whose fate or whereabouts still remain unknown."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, responding to a foreign journalist's question in Beijing on June 9, said there had been no "enforced disappearances" at Kirti monastery. He said local authorities had taken some monks for "legal education."
Reported for RFA's Tibetan service and translated by Rigdhen Dolma. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.