KATHMANDU—Authorities in the northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai have detained up to 20 people, including two senior monks, after violent clashes between Tibetans and Hui Muslims that ended in the siege of a local mosque, according to Tibetan sources.
Nyi O, chief monk in charge of discipline at Tongkyab monastery in Gade (in Chinese, Gande), was taken into custody Aug. 15 by two Tibetan officials from the Gade county Public Security Bureau (PSB), according to a source who asked not to be named.
Another monk identified as Taklo was detained with him, questioned, and then released, the source said. Other sources said as many as 20 Tibetans in all had been detained in recent days as part of a joint operation by PSB officers working for the province and the prefecture.
Two sources said police had confirmed Nyi O’s detention but declined to provide any information.
Tongkyab monastery is known to have resisted what Chinese officials call a “patriotic re-education” campaign in which monks are pressured to denounce the Dalai Lama. Chinese authorities regard the exiled leader as a major threat whose unstated aim is independence from China.
According to additional sources, security officials have also detained the abbot of Pema Tumpo monastery, identified as Khenpo O Bar, along with another monk identified as Thub O and three others identified as Rinphel from Gonma township and Kundor and Rigkyab from Tongkyab town. Their whereabouts were also unclear.
There were incidents, and investigations are going on. We don’t interfere in this matter since it is confidential. Provincial PSB officials are looking into the matter.
According to several sources, some 20 Gade residents were detained on Aug. 22. Another said government officials have been camping in tents in Gade and periodically summoning Tibetans for questioning, according to one witness.
An official at the Gade county government office said none of the 20 had been formally arrested.
“They were not arrested. We are just asking questions. They are wanted just for some investigation purposes. I don't know where they are, and the Golok prefecture and [Qinghai] provincial officials are directly dealing with them,” the official said.
An official from the Gade PSB who declined to give his name said only that officials were investigating the clashes that occurred earlier this month.
“There were incidents, and investigations are going on. We don’t interfere in this matter since it is confidential. Provincial PSB officials are looking into the matter,” the official said.
“Because of the clash between Tibetans and Muslims in Gade, a large armed police contingent arrived from Lanzhou,” one of the sources said.
Others said that officials were calling all-day meetings at Tongkyab monastery and among village leaders, demanding that they identify those responsible for destroying the local mosque or face arrest.
“The officials threatened that if they don’t participate and speak out, everyone will be detained one by one. If anyone comes late for these meetings, they are fined 500 yuan,” one Tibetan source said.
When Nyi O was detained, said another source, “all the monks were in summer retreat. Disregarding the ongoing retreat, they ordered that the head of the monastery should immediately report to the county PSB office at Gade. So Nyi O, the head of discipline, and another monk named Taklo, were taken to the county office. Taklo was dismissed after questioning for some time.”
“Nyi O was taken from the office to an unknown place. So on Aug. 17, 60 monks from Tongkyab monastery rushed to the county PSB office and asked for Nyi O, but they replied that Nyi O was taken for interrogation by the provincial authorities and gave no details. They said that he was with the Golok PSB officials,” the source said.
“One Tibetan went to the Golok prefecture center and asked for Nyi O at the police office. They acknowledged that he was detained at the Golok detention center. He was neither allowed to see him nor feed him. However, the officials promised to pass on food to him,” said another source.
Earlier this month, an argument between a Muslim restaurateur and a Tibetan customer sparked clashes involving hundreds of people and culminating in the siege of a local mosque, local residents and police said.
Hundreds of Tibetans who had already converged on the town of Tawo (in Chinese, Dawo), Golok prefecture, for the annual horse-racing festival were called by cellphone following an argument between a man from Gade who said he had found a human tooth in his companion’s food at a Muslim restaurant.
A Tibetan eyewitness said it had taken the intervention of a local religious leader to calm the volatile Tibetan crowd, which had gone on to destroy a mosque. “The police could not control the rioting masses,” he said.
“When [Tibetan monk] Chadrel Rinpoche appealed to the Tibetans to stop, the situation eased for a while. Then again on Aug. 7, 700 Tibetans destroyed a small mosque.”
No comment from members of the local Hui Muslim community was immediately available.
“Towards the evening there were over 300 Tibetans and about 200 Muslims gathered in the street close to the mosque. At that time about 30 police vehicles arrived and blocked the main entrances and ordered all the Muslims inside the mosque,” the eyewitness said.
He said the Tibetans were angry following repeated health and hygiene problems at the restaurant in question, including an apparent mass food poisoning of 12 people. “The Tibetans are not going to stay quiet unless things improve,” he added.
“Most probably they found some unclean object which resembles a human tooth,” an official who answered the phone at the police station in Machen (in Chinese, Maqin) county where Tawo is situated, told RFA’s Tibetan service.
“At this point it is difficult to confirm whether it is true or false. However it is certain that some groups of people clashed, and many window panes of the restaurant were broken,” said the official, who said police from Machen county and Golok town were investigating the incident.
An eyewitness to the Aug. 4 clashes said rioters were throwing stones, and several police officers were injured. “Since it was a festival there were many Tibetans. Through cellphones, they called others and in all 300 Tibetans gathered in front of the restaurant and ransacked the restaurant,” the man said.
“The police were using electric batons on Tibetans. Some police might have been hit by stones thrown by the rioting Tibetans. About six or seven police were hurt, and were taken to hospital. No Tibetans or local Muslims were hurt in the riots. None died in the clash,” he added.
Original reporting by Chakmo Tso for RFA’s Amdo Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written and produced for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han. Edited by Richard Finney.