Authorities in northwestern China’s Qinghai province have released all but four of 27 Tibetans detained for opposing a Chinese mining operation that had run beyond its leasing contract and had begun to encroach on sacred sites, sources said.
The 27 residents of Karsel village in Chabcha (in Chinese, Gonghe) county in the Tsolho (Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture were taken into custody on June 6 and 7 after vowing to block the mining of white marble in their area.
Four were quickly released, with 23 held in custody for investigation, local sources said.
Of those 23, 19 were later freed “in different groups and at different times,” a Tibetan living in Europe told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Thursday, citing sources in the region.
“Now, four Tibetans are still in custody and are accused of being ringleaders in the protest,” the source, named Dorje, said.
“Family members could not learn at first where they were detained, but after making enquiries they learned that all four are being held in a prison close to [the provincial capital] Xining,” he said.
Tibetan areas of China have become an important source of minerals needed for China’s economic growth, and mining operations 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.
Earlier this week, police in China’s southwestern Yunnan province attacked and beat a group of Tibetan women who had gathered to protest copper mining on land considered sacred by residents living near the site.
The protest came after Chinese authorities dismissed repeated appeals by Tibetans living in Dechen (in Chinese, Diqing) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture’s Dechen (Deqin) county to halt the excavations.
Family kept away
Relatives of the four still in custody for protesting against the mining of white marble in Qinghai have not been told the exact location of the prison where they are being held, and are not allowed to meet with them, Dorje said.
“Tibetans living in the Chabcha area are really worried, as they have heard that the detained protesters may now face trial and could be sentenced to a number of years in prison.”
“They are demanding that if the four are tried, they must be tried in their home county,” he said.
Chinese miners have been digging for white marble in the Karsel village area since about 1989, and continued to excavate even after the end of a contract that allowed them to work, a local source told RFA in June.
“The contract expired this year,” he said. “So the Tibetans resisted the extension of the mining work after the excavations began to adversely affect the local environment.”
“There is a sacred place near the mining site where the local Tibetans worship and make offerings, fly prayer flags, and burn incense to please the local deities,” the source added.
“A cemetery is also located in this area. The mining work is being done right behind this cemetery and has now almost reached it.”
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 131 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.