Travel Restrictions Announced at Tibetan Monastery in Gansu Ahead of Major Religious Festival

Travel Restrictions Announced at Tibetan Monastery in Gansu Ahead of Major Religious Festival Labrang monastery in Gansu's Sangchu county is shown in a file photo.
Photo provided by an RFA listener

Authorities in northwestern China’s Gansu province are imposing restrictions on travel to and from an important Tibetan monastery ahead of a major annual religious festival, requiring the wearing of masks by those attending and forbidding entry even to private vehicles, Tibetan sources say.

Announced in a joint notice issued by the management committee of Sangchu (Chinese, Xiahe) county’s Labrang Tashi Kyil monastery and local police, visitors to the monastery are barred from the monastery unless they can show proof of good health, including a certificate showing they have been tested for COVID-19.

“Secondly, during this period of [coronavirus] prevention, all devotees and tourists must cover their face with masks. And thirdly, no vehicles coming from outside the monastery will be allowed onto the monastery grounds,” the notice says.

The announced restrictions come in advance of the start of a major annual prayer festival, the Monlam Chenmo, that typically draws large numbers of participants, a former Tibetan political prisoner now living in Switzerland named Golog Jigme told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Monday.

“In the name of the monastery’s abbot, Chinese authorities are using the excuse of averting a spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to crack down on the freedom of movement of monks and laypeople wanting to make religious visits to Labrang Tashi Kyil,” Jigme said.

“Everyone’s movements are frozen unless one can show evidence of having taken a coronavirus test. But in reality, the crackdown is aimed at the soon-to-be-observed great Monlam Chenmo religious festival itself” Jigme said.

This year’s Monlam Chenmo—which often draws thousands of attendees from across the region—will begin on February 15, the third day of the new Lunar Year’s Losar celebrations, Jigme said.

Buddhist monasteries in Tibet and Tibetan-populated provinces of western China have frequently become the focus of efforts to promote not just religion but Tibetan cultural values, and Chinese security forces often monitor and sometimes close down events involving large crowds.

Annual public assemblies at the monasteries have greatly increased in size in recent years, as thousands of Tibetans gather to assert their national identity in the face of Beijing’s cultural and political domination.

Reported by Lobe Socktsang for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul and Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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