After protest, Tibetan monastery leader and village official sent to detention center

They were among more than 1,000 Tibetans arrested for opposing the construction of a dam.
By Kalden Lodoe and Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan
2024.03.07
After protest, Tibetan monastery leader and village official sent to detention center Tenzin Sangpo (L), senior administrator of Wonto Monastery and village official Tenzin (R), both from Wangbuding township, Dege county, in southwestern China's Sichuan province are seen in undated photos.
Citizen journalist

UPDATED at 4:47 P.M. ET on 03-25-2024

Authorities have transferred a Tibetan Buddhist monastery administrator and a village official – both arrested last month on suspicion of leading protests against the construction of a dam – to a large detention center in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, two sources with knowledge of the situation told Radio Free Asia.

Tenzin Sangpo, the senior administrator of Wonto Monastery in Wangbuding township, and a village official named Tenzin, were transferred from where they were previously detained to the larger Dege County Detention Center Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on March 3, said the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals by Chinese officials.

The men were among the more than 1,000 Tibetan monks and residents of Dege County who were arrested on Feb. 23 for peacefully appealing to halt the construction of the dam on the Drichu River (Jinsha, in Chinese).

Some of these detainees, including Sangpo and Tenzin, were severely beaten.

The dam construction is expected to cause the forced resettlement of at least two major villages, Wonto and Shipa, and the destruction of several monasteries with religious and historical significance, including the Wonto and Yena monasteries.

On Feb. 27, Chinese police released around 40 Tibetans, even as they forbade them from communicating with outsiders and imposed strict restrictions on the movement of people to and from the various monasteries and villages on both sides of the river. 

Checking social media feeds

Sources, however, told RFA on Thursday that Chinese authorities are continuing to arrest more people and have cracked down on the people who posted videos of the arrests and protests that took place in February. 

“The police are regularly checking people’s WeChat and TikTok accounts for any evidence of them having shared the videos and for communication with the outside world,” the first source said. “There’s severe restrictions on movement on either side of the river and no internet connection.”

The authorities are carrying out widespread, daily search and interrogations to find the people who posted the videos of black-clad Chinese police restraining the monks, who could be seen kneeling and crying out.

“People who send information out and videos like this face imprisonment and torture,” Maya Wang, interim China director of Human Rights Watch told RFA last month in the wake of the first round of arrests of more than 100 Tibetans that took place on Feb. 22. “Even calling families in the diaspora are reasons for imprisonment.”

“What we do see now are actually … typical scenes of repression in Tibet, but we don’t often get to see [what] repression looks like in Tibet anymore,” Wang said.

‘Open prison’ in Dege

The police are monitoring the monks and locals very closely, and the situation is like an “open prison as they are exercising extreme control,” said the second source. 

“The monks and local people are very angry that they were arrested and subjected to beatings and torture for making peaceful appeals,” he added. “They say that if the government really forces them to move, there may be violent protests.”

Chinese officials have, however, made clear that the Gangtuo Dam project will continue, two Tibetans with knowledge of the situation told RFA earlier this month.

The Gangtuo Dam is part of a plan that China’s National Development and Reform Commission announced in 2012 to build a massive 13-tier hydropower complex on the Drichu. It would be located at Kamtok (Gangtuo, in Chinese) in Dege county, northwest of Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The total planned capacity of the 13 hydropower stations is 13,920 megawatts. 

Over the past two weeks, Tibetans in exile have been holding solidarity rallies in cities in the United States, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia and India.  

Global leaders and Tibetan advocacy groups have condemned China’s actions, calling for the immediate release of those detained. 

Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

The story has been updated to correct the name of the village official and to give the full name of the senior administrator of Wonto Monastery. It also corrects the name of the location in Dege county where the dam would be built.

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