Tibetan monk arrested for holding Dalai Lama’s portrait during protest

Authorities have intensified restrictions around his monastery in Ngaba county.
By Pelbar and Dolma Lhamo for RFA Tibetan
2024.04.05
Tibetan monk arrested for holding Dalai Lama’s portrait during protest Tibetan monk Pema of Kirti Monastery in Ngaba county, southwest China's Sichuan province, is seen in an undated photo. RFA has blurred the other monks in the photo to protect their identities.
Citizen journalist

Chinese police arrested a Tibetan monk from Kirti Monastery for staging a solo protest while holding a portrait of the Dalai Lama on the streets of Ngaba county in southwest China’s Sichuan province in March, two sources from inside Tibet and one from the exile community told Radio Free Asia.

Buddhist monk Pema, who was working as a teacher for the preliminary Buddhist study section at Kirti Monastery, also shouted slogans against Chinese policies in Tibet during his protest on Pawo Road, or Martyrs’ Road, and was immediately arrested, said the sources who requested anonymity for safety reasons. 

Pema’s detention is the latest in a slew of arrests Chinese authorities have made over the years of Tibetans who have been charged with possessing a portrait of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. 

Possessing photos of the Dalai Lama, who has resided in exile in northern India since 1959, is considered an act of separatism and has been a punishable offense in Tibetan-populated areas of China for decades.

Following Pema’s arrest, Chinese authorities intensified restrictions at the monastery and the surrounding area in Ngaba, called Aba in Chinese and which lies in the historical Amdo area of Tibet, with a large deployment of security forces to the area, the sources said. 

“Currently, there is no information on where he is being detained and about his well-being,” said a source from inside Tibet, adding that Pema’s family members have been kept in the dark about his situation. 

When RFA contacted Ngaba county police for information on Pema’s whereabouts and the charges leveled against him, an official there said he had no knowledge of the monk.

Pema, who hails from Suruma village in Ngaba county, was studying Buddhist philosophy, in addition to serving as a teacher for the preliminary Buddhist study section at Kirti Monastery. 

Another Buddhist monk, Tenzin Khenrap, 29, was arrested last July in Nyagchu county in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan province for possessing a photo of the Dalai Lama on his mobile phone along with other books and documents published outside Tibet. His whereabouts remain unknown.

In June 2023, authorities arrested Tibetan monk Lobsang Thabkhey, 54, who served as a librarian in Kirti Monastery, on charges of republishing books from the exiled Tibetan community and for contacting people outside the region.

In February of the same year, authorities arrested Tsultrim, a Tibetan man from Tsaruma township in Ngaba’s Kyungchu county, after they discovered pictures of the Dalai Lama on his mobile phone. He was detained until April, after which he was sentenced to two years in prison by the People's Court of Ngaba.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi and edited by Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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