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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

New protest today in Ngaba after officials ban prayer ceremony

March 2, 2009

1 March, 2009
International Campaign for Tibet

News is emerging of a protest this morning (March 1, 2009) by several
hundred monks from Sey monastery in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba), the Tibetan
area of Amdo, after officials prevented them from marking a major prayer
festival. Several hundred monks marched from the monastery after
officials banned them from praying, calling to be allowed to celebrate
the Monlam prayer festival, and for the authorities to release all
Tibetan prisoners from the area, according to three Tibetan sources with
contacts in the area including one eyewitness. According to one of the
sources, the protest was dispersed when armed police and officials
confronted the protestors and troops are now surrounding the monastery.

Tension is high in the area following an incident on Friday when a monk
from the same area was shot after setting himself on fire, following a
similar ban on the Monlam Chenmo (Great Prayer Festival) at Kirti
monastery in Ngaba, Sichuan province. The Chinese state media has
confirmed that a monk from Kirti was taken to hospital with burns on his
head and neck.

The incident today occurred at around 9 am when approximately 600 monks
at Sey monastery near Ngaba town (approximately 1.5 kilometers from
Kirti monastery) were told by officials that they were not permitted to
celebrate the Monlam Chenmo festival. There has been extensive
government interference with this important prayer festival that was
established in Tibet in 1409 by Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa
tradition. It was banned during the Cultural Revolution, and again in
1990. In defiance of the stated orders, Sey monks had begun to pray, but
according to a Tibetan source with contacts in the area, ?Right after
they started, officials [likely to be members of the work team stationed
at the monastery] intervened and stopped the ceremony. The monks asked
the officials, ?Allow us to pray ?dukkar? [a precious prayer to remove
obstacles] once and we will stop.? They didn?t say anything and the
monks continued to pray.?

At some point the monks present stood up and left the prayer hall.
According to the same source, there are likely to have been as many as
600 monks. They left the monastery and walked towards Ngaba town,
shouting that they should be allowed to observe the Monlam prayer
ceremony and calling on the authorities to release prisoners from Ngaba.
It is not possible to confirm how many monks protested as sources varied
in their accounts of the number of monks who did so. They walked for
around five to ten minutes according to the same source before they were
apprehended by officials (likely to be members of the Democratic
Management Committee, although that could not be confirmed) who urged
the monks not to proceed further for fear of a violent response from
troops stationed in the area. One report stated that some senior monks
at the monastery were involved in the attempt to stop the protest. A
source who knows the area well says that they reached a petrol pump that
is just before a bridge leading to Ngaba market, on the opposite side of
town to the crossroads where the Kirti monk Tapey set himself on fire on
Friday.

Armed police arrived at the scene, and according to two of the reports,
Sey monks began to return to the monastery, where they are now
surrounded by armed police personnel and likely to be under lockdown
after the protest.

The Chinese state media has confirmed that a monk, who has been
identified by Tibetan sources as Tapey, walked out of the Kirti
Monastery in Aba, Sichuan province, and set himself on fire in a local
street on Friday afternoon, Xinhua news agency said, citing the local
Communist Party chief, Shi Jun. Shi reportedly said police put out the
fire, and that the man was taken to hospital with burn injuries to his
neck and head. Unofficial reports received from the area over the
weekend confirm that Tapey was shot by People?s Armed Police troops
after he set himself alight. His current condition is not known although
the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that he is now in hospital.
Shops in Ngaba town market were apparently closed over the weekend after
the incident and the presence of troops in the area may have been
stepped up, with one eyewitness source reporting a very visible presence
of troops in the area close to Sey monastery apparently carrying out
manoeuvres.

Tapey had set himself on fire after officials announced a ban on marking
the Monlam prayer festival at Kirti. The Monlam (Great Prayer) Festival,
falls on 4th -11th day of the 1st Tibetan month in Tibetan Buddhism ?
directly after the Tibetan New Year (Losar). As the greatest religious
festival in Tibet, thousands of monks (of the three main monasteries of
Drepung, Sera and Ganden) traditionally gathered for chanting prayers
and performing religious rituals at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.

The ban on Monlam Chenmo reported at Kirti and Sey is a further example
of the way in which state repression of religion has created deepening
tension in Tibet, the opposite of the ?genuine stability? the Chinese
government states it is seeking in Tibet.

The crackdown in Ngaba has been particularly severe following a major
protest involving monks from Kirti monastery and local people on March
16 last year, and the presence of troops in the area has been stepped up
more recently. At least 10 Tibetans - including 16 year old schoolgirl
Lhundup Tso - were shot dead last year after police opened fire on
unarmed protestors after a morning prayer session at Kirti monastery on
March 16, 2008. Many more monks and laypeople have been imprisoned and
tortured since then, and during police raids at Kirti, photographs of
the Dalai Lama and senior religious leaders were destroyed. In June last
year troops raided Sey monastery, smashing images of the Dalai Lama and
harassing monks who were in retreat at that time.

This is the only known period since the anniversary of the March 1959
Uprising when protests have continued in Tibetan areas despite the
severity of the Chinese government?s response since March 10 last year.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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