Tibetan Monk Held For More Than a Year Without Word to His Family

2020-12-02
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Tibetan Monk Held For More Than a Year Without Word to His Family Rinchen Tsultrim, a Tibetan monk held incommunicado in detention for his writings on social media, is shown in an undated photo.
Photo: Tibet Times

A Tibetan monk detained by Chinese police in August 2019 on suspicion of working to “split the country” has been held incommunicado ever since, with family members unsure where he is being held, a Tibetan advocacy group said this week.

Rinchen Tsultrim, 29, was taken into custody in Sichuan’s Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) county for “peacefully expressing his thoughts on a range of Tibetan political, social and culture issues” on social media, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said on Dec. 2.

“An ‘inquiry notice’ issued by the Ngaba County National Security Bureau summoning a Tibetan for police inquiry at the Barma (in Chinese, Waerma) Township police station stated that Rinchen was suspected of separatism,” ICT said.

“Separatism” is an accusation often leveled by Chinese authorities against Tibetans opposing the assimilation of Tibet’s distinctive national and cultural identity into China’s dominant Han culture, and scores of monks, writers, educators, and musical performers have been arrested under the charge in recent years.

A monk of Tibet’s Bon religion, Tsultrim was born in Ngaba’s Kashul village, ICT said, adding that his writings on the social media platform WeChat and his personal website “Skepticism on Tibet” had already drawn the attention of police for several years before his arrest.

Tsultrim's ongoing contacts with Tibetans living in exile were another important factor leading to his arrest, a Tibetan living in exile in India told RFA's Tibetan Service.

"This was especially true in 2019 during the month of the Panchen Lama's birthday," RFA's source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Tibet's Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six by Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama. Three days later, the young religious leader and his family were taken away by Chinese authorities, who then installed another boy in his place.

Defending Tibetan culture, language

Academically "very capable" and usually ranking first in his class, Tsultrim often focused his conversations and written essays on the need to preserve Tibetan culture and language, the source said.

Tsultrim's family were once called by Chinese authorities to Sichuan's capital Chengdu, but were not allowed to meet with him, the source said, adding that a meeting was later refused again when they were summoned by police in Ngaba.

"So basically, his family has no idea whether he is alive or dead," he said.

Tsultrim’s incommunicado status now leaves him at particular risk of torture, ICT said, calling for his whereabouts to be revealed and for his immediate release.

Chinese authorities in Tibet continue to tighten controls over information flows in the region, arresting Tibetans for sharing news and opinions on social media and for contacting relatives living in exile, sometimes with news of anti-China protests, according to rights groups and other experts.

Particular targets of censors and police are images of the Dalai Lama shared on mobile phone and calls for the preservation of the Tibetan language, now under threat from government orders to establish Chinese as the main language of instruction in Tibetan schools.

A formerly independent nation, Tibet was taken over and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India, and Beijing maintains a tight grip on Tibet and on Tibetan-populated regions of western Chinese provinces.

Reported by Lobe Socktsang for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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