Chinese authorities have taken into custody two men identified as the “ringleaders” of Tibetan protests against mining in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), according to Tibetan sources.
The detentions follow a wave of roundups of other protesters who have sought to block mine operations in the TAR’s Chamdo prefecture during the last three months, sources said.
A local Tibetan, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that authorities detained the two—identified as a lama named Tendzin and a layman named Tashi—“around July 20.”
“With this, the number of people held in connection with the mining protest is estimated to be around 50,” the source said.
Reached for comment, a police official in Chamdo prefecture’s Dzogang (in Chinese, Zuogang) county confirmed on Friday that “two local people” had been detained, but hung up when asked for additional information.
Protests in Dzogang began in May, when local Tibetans learned that “around 200” Chinese laborers had been deployed to work at mines in “several locations” in the county, according to another source.
“Dzogang county authorities, in order to quash the protest, warned the local people that any demonstrations against the mining would be construed as politically motivated, and urged them to refrain from such actions,” the man said.
Police beat Tibetans in Dzogang county’s Bethong township when they appealed for a halt to mine operations, another source said, adding that county officials said the land on which the mines were located had already been sold to a Chinese company.
“The local people were told that the land belongs to local and county government, and that the people have no say in how the land is used,” he said.
On June 30, nine unidentified Tibetans were detained for protesting Chinese mining on a sacred mountain near the villages of Topa and Sapa in Bethong township, the same source said.
“A convoy of official cars and four military trucks descended on the villages and detained nine local people at around 9:30 p.m.,” the source said. “The detentions were in connection with earlier protests against the mining.”
Chinese military personnel were then deployed at four mining sites, and the movements of local villagers were restricted, the source added.
Then, on July 2, three village officials—Arsong, 56, Tashi Namgyal, 60, and Jamyang Thinley, 62—who had traveled as delegates to the Tibetan capital Lhasa to protest the mining and detentions, were taken into custody by Dzogang county police and brought back to Dzogang.
Two other groups of villagers were detained on July 6 and 7, the source said, naming some of those held as Ga Tashi, Tsesong, Buti, Lobsang Tsultrim, Delob, Butob, Gendun, Jamyang Nyima, and Bu Tashi.
On July 14, a lama named Nyima was also detained, the source continued.
Mining operations in Tibetan regions have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms of disrupting sites of spiritual significance and polluting the environment as they extract local wealth.
Reported by Soepa Gyaltso, Dawa Dolma, and Dhondub Dorjee for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.