One Tibetan woman died and another was hospitalized with serious injuries after falling from a cliff while trying to avoid a checkpoint meant to monitor the activities of pilgrims approaching Tibet’s capital city, according to Tibetan sources.
The security check was part of a network of checkpoints set up across Tibet in the latest move to tighten security in the region of Lhasa, home to Jokhang Temple, the most sacred and important temple in Tibet.
"Two Tibetan women who tried to evade a Chinese blockade had a tragic accident which resulted in death and serious injury,” a Tibetan source in the Lhasa region told RFA on Wednesday.
“Namgyal Tso, a woman in her 50s, and her companion, a nun named Ani Agon, also in her 50s, traveled from Luchu (in Chinese, Lugu) county in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Gansu province to seek the blessing of the main temple Jokhang in Lhasa,” the source said.
However, he said, upon reaching a checkpoint in Chamdo (in Chinese, Changdu) county, the two traveling companions were forced to avoid police and security personnel who were stopping and checking all Tibetan travelers before allowing them to proceed on to Lhasa.
“They took paths higher in the mountains to avoid the Chinese blockade, but unfortunately they fell. Namgyal Tso died in the fall and her friend Ani Agon was seriously injured," the source said.
Security ramp up
The source said that authorities had recently expelled “several hundreds of Tibetans” from Kham and Amdo [regions located mainly in Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provinces, as well as in parts of the Tibet Autonomous Region] to their hometowns.
He said that security measures had been stepped up in the aftermath of an incident involving two young Tibetan men who set themselves ablaze in Lhasa in May while protesting Chinese rule in the region.
Since February 2009, 42 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest against Chinese policies in Tibet. Most of them were in Tibetan-populated provinces in western China, and the May self-immolations were the first in the heavily guarded Tibetan capital.
The source said that since the self-immolations, Chinese authorities had imposed restrictions on Tibetans traveling to Lhasa and that Chinese police were also stopping Tibetans from traveling to the capital at checkpoints.
“Those who are traveling from Amdo and Kham to Lhasa are being seriously restricted," he said, adding that this was the reason the two women had resorted to a more dangerous route.
“So when [the two women] saw the police stopping and checking the Tibetans in Chamdo, they walked up to a higher mountain path, but they fell,” the source said.
The incident comes after reports in May of religious pilgrims going to Lhasa and others who were found without proper identification being stopped on the road and sent back to their places of origin.
One pilgrim reported encountering over 50 checkpoints during his journey, which he said had been established to the east of Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region counties of Pome, Pashoe, and Nyingtri. He said travelers and pilgrims had been questioned about the reasons for their trip and about where they would be staying in the regional capital.
In addition, sources said, travelers were not allowed to stay in Lhasa for more than a month, and were forced to register with Lhasa police on their arrival and when they departed. Pilgrims from the eastern regions of Kham and Amdo, the scene of repeated self-immolations and other protests by Tibetans challenging Chinese rule, face particularly heavy restrictions.
Lhasa Tibetan Radio reported on May 5 that about 50 roadside police booths had been set up in Chamdo county, with plans under way to set up other surveillance stations in 10 other counties in the prefecture. The booths in Chamdo county are already fully staffed and functioning, the state-controlled radio service said.
Around 130 similar booths—called “dogs’ dens” by local Tibetans—are already in operation in Lhasa city, a second Lhasa-area source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.