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Abbot 'Disappeared', Sister Dies Amid Widening Crackdown in Zatoe

March 22, 2012

Khenpo Gyewala, a highly-respected scholar and abbot of Gyegyel Zogchen Monastery, has 'disappeared' along with 13 others in Zatoe (Chinese: Zaduo) in YulShul (Chinese: Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province.

Khenpo Gyewala went 'missing' in the evening of 8 March 2012, according to sources. Local Tibetans believe that Khenpo was likely arrested by the local Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers during a night time raid.

Khenpo founded the Monsel School which offers classes in Tibetan language and grammar, Buddhism and cultural values every winter when government schools in the area closed for vacation. The school had some 800 students in attendance; mostly local children in the nomadic area and children of newly resettled Tibetan nomads in Zatoe County. Khenpo was the founder as well as a teacher at Monsel.

Sources said Khenpo founded the winter school to counter growing illiteracy among Tibetan children and was especially concerned about the fate of many young newly resettled nomads in the county town.

Religious Festival Banned

Khenpo ran into problems with the local authorities after the government officials issued an order banning the holding of Dechen Shingdrup, a famed local religious festival presided over by all the major religious personalities in the area. On 9 February 2012, the day Khenpo had planned to organize the festival, about 1,000 Monsel students and local Tibetans staged a protest march from Zatoe town to the local PSB office situated on the other side of the valley. They protested against the sudden ban on the religious festival. It is not clear whether anyone was detained during the protests.

Sources said the practice of holding Dechen Shingdrup religious festival began three years ago in Zatoe County and in the past, local authorities had granted permission for holding the festival.

Abbot Detained

On 10 February 2012, local security officials detained Khenpo and some unspecified number of teachers at the PSB office. They were released later in the evening after about 800 students approached the PSB office and demanded their release. Sources said the local authorities were apprehensive of the student protests getting out of hand and released Khenpo and fellow teachers.

After his release, Khenpo was ordered not to move anywhere without the knowledge and approval of the authorities. Similar restrictions were placed on the movement and activities of the students and teachers.

It was some weeks later on 8 March that Khenpo 'disappeared'. Some sources say he is not being held in Zatoe but has likely been transferred elsewhere.

Abbot's Sister Dies

On 15 March 2012, Khenpo's sister died in a hospital where she was brought after she fell unconscious in the county PSB office. The sister, whose identity TCHRD is unable to obtain immediately, had approached the PSB office a number of times enquiring and urging the officials to disclose information about her brother. On few occasions, she was accompanied by relatives and local Tibetans to the PSB office.

However, the PSB office repeatedly refused to provide any information forcing the sister to shout at the officials. The ensuing moments saw the sister apparently suffering emotional shock, sources said, as she lost consciousness and fell down in the PSB office.

13 Tibetans Missing

About 13 known Tibetans, who had worked closely with Khenpo, also remain missing. They were arrested in separate incidents over several weeks. Among them are Apho (aged 47), a monk at Tashi Lhabug Monastery; Tsering Dhundup (aged 32), a former county government official; and Rhagpa, a teacher at Monsel School. The identities of the others could not be established immediately.

Khenpo Gyewala (aged 44) was born to parents Khortse and Pekar in 1970 in Zatoe. He became a monk at a young age at Gyegyel Zogchen Monastery. Khenpo was the abbot and teacher at the Dialectics School of the monastery. He is also a highly respected scholar who had studied for many years at Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in Serta (Chinese: Seda) County, Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.

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