A young Tibetan detained last year for his role in leading protests against Chinese mining operations in a restive county in Tibet has died after being tortured in custody, sources said.
His death came as Chinese police moved to round up residents of Driru (in Chinese, Biru) county in the Nagchu (Naqu) prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region identified as leaders of the mass protest that forced the shutdown of mining operations on Naglha Dzambha, a mountain regarded as sacred by area residents.
“Konchog Drakpa, a young man in his 20s from Chana town in Driru, was tortured in prison a month ago,” Driru Samdrub, a Tibetan native of the area now living in Europe told RFA’s Tibetan Service, citing sources in the region.
“He died in prison, and his body was handed over to his family on Dec. 28, 2013,” Samdrub said.
In May 2013, Chinese mine operators announced plans to construct roads and excavate minerals at Naglha Dzambha, prompting about 5,000 Tibetans to gather in protest in Driru, drawing a large security force to the area.
About 3,500 then went on to protest at the mining site itself, sources said.
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.
“Last year, a large number of Tibetans in Driru resisted Chinese mining at Naglha Dzambha , and China reportedly arrested many of them for leading the protest,” Samdrub said.
On Dec. 19, a Chinese court in Driru handed jail terms of up to 13 years to three Tibetans—Choekyab, Tselha, and Trinley Tsekar—for opposing work at the mine.
Following the anti-mining protest in May, Driru county became the center of a campaign by Tibetans resisting forced displays of loyalty to the Chinese state.
The campaign began in early October when villages refused to fly the Chinese flag from their homes, throwing them instead into a river and prompting a deadly security crackdown in which Chinese police fired into an unarmed crowd, killing at least four and injuring about 50.
In response, Beijing identified Driru as a “politically unstable” county and launched an “intense and thorough” political re-education program in area villages and monasteries, according to sources in the region.
Monk vanishes in custody
Meanwhile, Tsultrim Nyendrak, a monk from one of three area monasteries closed by authorities in December, has vanished in custody after being picked up by police from Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa at the end of last year, Driru Samdrub said.
“[Nyendrak] of Rabten monastery in Driru’s Tsachu township was touring different pilgrimage sites in Tibet and was detained by Chinese police from Lhasa in December last year,” Samdrub said.
“His family members were not told he was detained, and his current whereabouts are unknown,” he said.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the area in 2008.
A total of 126 Tibetans have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom since the wave of fiery protests began in February 2009, with another six setting fire to themselves in India and Nepal.
Reported by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Rigdhen Dolma. Written in English by Richard Finney.