Pilgrims Freed After Two-Month Ordeal

Chinese authorities release Tibetan pilgrims held on their return from an Indian gathering presided over by the Dalai Lama.

Kalachakra.crowd_1002-305.jpg Tibetan pilgrims receive Buddhist teachings at the Kalachakra in Bodhgaya, India, January 2012.
RFA / Thomas L. Kelly

Updated at 1:30 p.m. EST on 2012-04-04

Chinese authorities in Tibet on Tuesday released hundreds of pilgrims detained more than two months ago after they returned from religious teachings given in India by the Dalai Lama, according to Tibetan sources.

Those released were the last of a group that had been held in Tibet’s capital Lhasa. A group of about 200 detained in Lhoka, outside Lhasa, are still being held, though, sources said.

In a surprising move, China had earlier allowed about 9,000 Tibetans to travel to India to take part in the 10-day Kalachakra teachings conducted by the exiled spiritual leader in January in the Indian town of Bodhgaya.

Upon their return, however, Tibetans from the eastern regions of Kham and Amdo were immediately detained, interrogated, and sent home by train, while pilgrims returning to areas in and around Lhasa were placed in hotels and other detention centers for “political reeducation.”

Their passports were seized, and they were forced to write statements of "confession," according to relatives of some detainees.

The pilgrims detained in Lhasa have now all been released, according to a local source writing on a microblog in Tibetan.

“Those Tibetans who were detained after returning from India and Nepal after receiving the Kalachakra teachings in Bodhgaya were released today, April 3, 2012, sometime in the afternoon,” the message read.

The elderly among the pilgrims held in Lhasa had already been released earlier, with one group aged 70 and above released first, followed later by those aged 65 and over, a source inside Tibet said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Those seniors who were released earlier were restricted in their movements after returning to their homes, though,” the source said, adding, “Many of those elderly pilgrims had fainted, and a few had died, when they were subjected to reeducation sessions while in detention.”

'Lies and deceptions'

Sessions were organized around points outlined in a document titled Information on Rules and Education, and covered such subjects as China’s views on “normal Tibetan Buddhist practice” and the “lies and deceptions” of the Dalai Lama—reviled as a separatist by Chinese leaders—according to a Tibetan source.

In the Lhasa area alone, seven to eight of these classes were organized in army camps, schools, and hotels, the Tibetan blogger and writer Woeser said in a report broadcast by RFA on March 17.

“Those who were detained were from different sections of Tibetan society. Some were government employees, some government retirees, businessmen, farmers, and so on,” Woeser said.

Government employees and Party members who had traveled to India were singled out for particular attention, one Tibetan source said.

“During the Tibetan New Year, Tibetans who were members of the Communist Party and active government employees remained in detention while others in the Lhasa area were allowed to go home for a few days.”

Even those who had been allowed to visit their homes were required to return on February 28 to continue their “reeducation” classes, though, the source said.

Reported by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translation by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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