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Monasteries under lockdown after three days of protest: fears of severe reprisals in Lhasa

March 14, 2008

March 13, 2008

Conditions are said to be increasingly tense within the three major
monasteries in Lhasa, which are under lockdown and surrounded by
troops following peaceful demonstrations over the last three days by
hundreds of monks from Drepung, Sera and Ganden monasteries on the
outskirts of the capital. Ganden monks demonstrated yesterday, marking
the third day in a series of protests unprecedented in recent years
that have now rippled through the Lhasa area, while others are
reported in at least two remote rural monasteries and towns in areas
of central and eastern Tibet.

All three monasteries are closed off to tourists according to several
tourism operators. Two Drepung monks are said by Radio Free Asia to be
in serious condition after stabbing themselves in a possible attempt
to commit suicide, while monks at Sera are refusing to attend classes
and are on hunger strike in a bold act of protest despite the
crackdown at the monastery.

The number of Tibetans detained as a result of the protests could not
be confirmed today. Although the initial response on the ground
appears to have been more restrained than expected, there are
indications that the authorities have begun a process of investigation
in monasteries that could lead to detention and torture in a standard
official pattern of reprisals followed by political re-education.
There is an intensified atmosphere of fear and tension in Tibet's

In a familiar official response, the Chinese authorities blamed the
Dalai Lama for the protests that began on Monday, the 49th anniversary
of Tibetan National Uprising Day. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman
Qin Gang called the protests "a deliberate political plot of the Dalai
Lama group to cause social unrest, separate Tibet from China, and
wreck the stable, harmonious, and normal life of the Tibetan people."
(Xinhua, March 13).

A Tibetan scholar with connections in Lhasa told ICT: "Over the past
few years the Chinese authorities have taken a heavy-handed approach
with its policies on religion and culture. Combined with the economic
marginalization so many Tibetans face, it seems that many people in
Lhasa and other areas have reached almost a breaking point. Now there
are real fears for how the authorities will respond. The typical
reaction is what is happening now – the gathering of information,
leading to reprisals."

Drepung monks in suicide attempt?

The two Drepung monks who stabbed themselves in the chest, hands, and
wrists in an apparent suicide bid were identified by Radio Free Asia's
Tibetan service as Kalsang and Damchoe, both originally from Kirti
monastery in Sichuan province. According to RFA, the two monks are in
critical condition and are not expected to survive. They refused to
move from the monastery to be hospitalized and are in Drepung's

More than 100 Drepung monks held a demonstration on Monday, March 10,
seeking the release of Drepung monks apparently detained following an
attempt by monks to mark a major award for the Dalai Lama, the
Congressional Gold Medal, last October. Drepung monks led the first in
a wave of protests that began in October, 1987 and culminated in the
imposition of martial law in Lhasa in March, 1989, presided over by
the then Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary, Hu Jintao, now
China's top leader. In the late 1980s, too, protests rippled through
Lhasa's major three monasteries and the broader population.

In a show of defiance unprecedented in recent years, over the past two
days, monks at Sera monastery are observing a hunger strike, and
requesting the removal of paramilitary People's Armed Police forces
from the monastery compound, according to Radio Free Asia and other
sources. Several hundred Sera monks were dispersed by tear-gas on
Tuesday (March 11) after they demonstrated and shouted slogans calling
for freedom.

The Sera monks are also calling for the release of monks detained
during a protest in the Jokhang on March 10. Radio Free Asia has
identified 11 of the monks who participated in this protest as Lobsang
Ngodrub, Lobsang Sherab, Lodroe, Sonam Lodroe, Lobsang, Tsultrim
Palden, Geleg, Pema Karwang, Zoepa, Thubdron, and Phurdan. The Tibetan
Center for Human Rights and Democracy, based in

Dharamsala, India, reported that four further monks were in the group
and identified them as a reincarnate lama, Tulku Tenpa Rigsang, Gelek
Pel, Samten and Thubwang. Other reports suggest that two laypeople
were also in the group, possibly both women.

The day after the protest, on Tuesday (March 11), Jampa Phuntsog,
chair of the Tibet Autonomous Region, denied that any Tibetans were in
custody as a result of the protests in response to a query from
journalists in Beijing. But the Sera monks' actions indicate that this
group of monks may still be in custody. It is not known whether any
other monks are in custody due to restrictions on information flow
which have led to fear over contact with the outside world.

Protests during visit of patriotic education team in Qinghai

Reports have emerged over the past two days of a protest at remote
Ditsa monastery in Bayan (Chinese: Hualong) county in Haidong
prefecture, Qinghai, which, significantly, took place during the visit
of a 'patriotic education' work team. The protest was said to involve
many if not most of the monks at the monastery and there was no
violent retaliation, according to reports. This was possibly because
officials were outnumbered and without access to immediate support.
Troops have now surrounded the monastery and according to at least one
reliable report investigations by the authorities have begun,
generally the precursor to the official approach of reprisals followed
by a period of political re-education.

A further report indicated that in one village near Lhasa local
officials were instructed to check all registration permits (hukous)
with the objective of checking who has been away for a long time. A
source told ICT that the intention appeared to be to establish if
local people had traveled to India recently. There is a particular
sensitivity towards Tibetans who have escaped into exile and returned,
as the authorities

perceive them to have fallen under the influence of the 'separatist'
'Dalai clique'. Following the protests, it is possible that border
security may be tightened in an attempt to block the flow of
information about protests to the outside world, through Tibetans
escaping into exile. The Chinese authorities impose severe penalties
on Tibetans who are caught attempting to pass on news to people
outside Tibet.
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