WASHINGTON—The head of a large Buddhist monastery in Chinese-run Tibet has been forced to step down after he refused to sign documents condemning the Dalai Lama, the monk and a local official have told Radio Free Asia (RFA).
“I spoke out loudly and refused to sign. I declared that I will not sign even at the cost my life, or risk of imprisonment, [or] death in a court,” Khenpo Tsanor, 70, the head of Dungkyab monastery in Gade county [in Chinese, Gande] in Golog Tibetan Prefecture, Qinghai province, told RFA’s Tibetan service. He said he officially stepped down in mid-May.
“I saw the government documents… It was written that the Dalai Lama should be thoroughly criticized and his splittist behavior should be condemned,” he said.
“I had no intention to sign. I knew very well that all who do not sign have to face trial in a Chinese court. They even threatened that the monastery would be shut down if we did not sign documents” from county officials as part of a religious and patriotic re-education campaign, he said.
“Some county officials came to the monastery [and] asked me whether I will agree to step down from the position of chief abbot,” he said. “I agreed since I didn't have the option of not accepting it.”
“It is so difficult for me to sit in such painful meetings,” he said, referring to mandatory sessions with officials aiming to quash support for the Tibetan exile leader, the Dalai Lama.
I spoke out loudly and refused to sign. I declared that I will not sign even at the cost my life, or risk of imprisonment, [or] death in a court
Officials at the Gande religious affairs department declined to comment on several occasions. But another Gande county official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed Khenpo Tsanor’s account.
The official also said county authorities were in the process of stepping up their patriotic re-education campaign and aiming to make Dungkyab a “model” monastery comprising only monks loyal to China.
“People are saying that the Dungkyab monks have refused to endorse the documents of the patriotic re-education campaign. This year I think the issue was discussed and it was decided to terminate his position,” the county official said.
“It is well known that all monasteries under China must be converted into ‘model monasteries,’” which comply with government directives, the official said. “From the government’s perspective, many monasteries must be evaluated and brought into compliance, although I don’t know all the details.”
Dungkyab monastery, some 12 miles (20 kms) from the Gande county seat, was established by the renowned Buddhist teacher Kyabje Wangchen Khenrab Dorje in 1837. It currently houses more than 200 monks, in addition to another 130 monks recruited by the Chinese authorities, according to local sources.
The Dalai Lama fled the region after a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. China has said the Dalai Lama will play no role in Tibet’s future. China’s People’s Liberation Army troops marched into Tibet in 1951. The Dalai Lama has accused Beijing of implementing policies of “cultural genocide” against the region and its Buddhist heritage.
In March, monks at the large and important Labrang monastery in central Gansu province alleged that their religious teaching and practice was facing ever-tighter Chinese curbs.
Though Chinese law permits freedom of religious faith and practice, one monk said, Chinese authorities force Labrang monks to make statements denouncing Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The U.S. State Department, in its just-released 2006 report on human rights worldwide, said Chinese government officials have “closely associated Buddhist monasteries with pro-independence activism in Tibetan areas of China.”
“The level of repression in Tibetan areas remained high [during the year],” the State Department said in its report, “and the government’s record of respect for religious freedom remained poor.”
Original reporting by Chakmo Tso for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translation by Karma Dorjee. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.