Chinese authorities have detained the uncle of a Tibetan villager who jumped to his death this month to oppose Chinese mining operations in a protest-hit Tibetan county, according to local sources.
Jampa Choephel was taken into custody on May 12 by police in Chamdo (in Chinese, Changdu) prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region, five days after his nephew committed suicide to highlight opposition to a gold mining project threatening the local environment, a Tibetan resident of the area said
“Jampa Choephel is the uncle of Phakpa Gyaltsen, who died in the protest against the mining project,” the source told RFA’s Tibetan Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He was living in Chamdo town and was looking after Phakpa Gyaltsen’s children along with other children who were attending school in the town,” he said, without giving any details on who is taking care of the children now.
“The authorities gave no reason for his detention.”
Gyaltsen died on May 7 after stabbing himself twice and throwing himself from a building in Dzogang (Zuogang) county’s Tongbar town, also in Chamdo.
Gyaltsen had told local local Tibetans he would “do something” to oppose Chinese plans to excavate gold in an area of Dzogang near Madok Tso called Ache Jema, where villagers had worked in groups of three to guard the site from miners, according to Tibetan sources.
Following Gyaltsen’s death, hundreds of area residents have been gathering in front of Tongbar government offices to demand a halt to the Chinese plans to build the mine, sources said.
“Officials are making every effort to control and restrict the Tibetans’ means of communication, with phone numbers being listed and threats being made of ‘serious consequences’ if information is shared with contacts outside the area,” one source said.
“After the death of Phakpa Gyaltsen in protest against the Chinese mining project, more stringent restrictions have been imposed on the Tibetan residents of Gyaltsen's Gewar village in Dzogang’s Tongbar town, and Tibetans are finding it very difficult to travel,” another source said.
Meanwhile, a local Tibetan named Rigdzin who also stabbed himself after Gyaltsen’s fatal protest was taken to a hospital in Chamdo, according to the source.
“In the beginning, relatives and friends were allowed to visit him in the hospital, but now no one is allowed,” he said.
“The Tibetans are still sitting in protest at the town center, and it is feared that tensions between the authorities and the protesters could grow worse.”
Tibet—called Xizang, or Western Treasure, by China—has become an important source of minerals needed for China’s economic growth, and 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.
Addressing an audience of Chinese during a visit last week to the Netherlands, exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama described the situation in Dzogang as “unbearable.”
“Indiscriminate mining and the exploitation of major resources—these are causing problems,” the Dalai Lama said.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 131 Tibetans to date self-immolating to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Soepa Gyatso for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.