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Tibetan Students Stand Up; Chinese Police Get Dirty; Unlikely Heroes Found

May 3, 2009

Agam's Gecko Blog
May 1, 2009

Hundreds of Tibetan students protested Chinese
school policies in Amdo Labrang last Friday
morning, according to many sources. The students
of the Sangchu (Ch: Xiahe) Tibetan Middle School
gathered early on April 24 at their school,
located near the Labrang Monastery in Sangchu
County, Kanlho Tibetan "Autonomous" Prefecture
(Ch: Gansu province). The young demonstrators
then marched from the school and headed toward
the main market of Labrang town, until they were
stopped and forced back to the school by Public
Security Bureau forces and People's Armed Police.
Local sources say that the security forces
immediately surrounded the school, preventing anyone from entering or leaving.

The students' grievances are said to have been
against the authorities' reported practice of
diverting higher education placements which are
supposedly reserved for Tibetan students, to
Chinese students. The Voice of Tibet radio
service reports the students' disappointment over
the rising number of Chinese students taking
placements at college level institutes which are
supposed to benefit Tibetans. No arrests of
students were reported and it remains difficult
to contact the area, which has been under tight
security for many months. A separate source told
Phayul News that over one thousand students study at the school.

Additional accounts received by the exile Tibetan
government say that the students carried banners
reading "Peace and Freedom", and began the
protest during their morning exercise period
around 7 a.m. An additional complaint was also
cited, saying the students were expressing
resistance to the required study of articles by
one "Yidor", which were denunciations of His
Holiness the Dalai Lama. Heavier restrictions
were placed on the surrounding areas following
the protest. AFP confirmed the incident with a
local hotel proprietor, who said there had been
no violence. Phone calls placed to the local
public security bureau, and to the school itself, went unanswered.

Also in Labrang, another Buddhist monk at the
Labrang Tashikyil Monastery was arrested by
police on April 13. Kelsang Gyatso, 36, was part
of the group of monks who bravely held an
unapproved press conference during a PRC
stage-managed international journalists' tour on
April 9, 2008. Kelsang had been travelling from
Labrang to Martsoed City when a group of police
waiting in a vehicle nabbed him and took him to
an unknown location. Two other monks from among
the impromptu media-briefers a year ago, Thabkhey
and Tsundue, disappeared soon after that widely
reported incident. They remain unaccounted for to
this day, and many local people believe them to be dead.

Chinese authorities in Nagchu County (Nagchu
T-"A"-P in the Tibetan "Autonomous" Region, north
of Lhasa) have secretly arrested three Buddhist
monks from the Shapten Monastery. Using their
well-documented skills of deception, officers of
the local Public Security Bureau took away
Khensur Thupten Thapkhey, a 47 year old former
abbot of the monastery, and Geshe Tsultrim
Gyaltsen, a 34 year old scripture master, on
April 11. The "security" officials explained to
the monastic community that the two would be
travelling to Lhasa to receive their Geshe
certificates (Doctorate of Philosophy) from the religious bureau.

The whole thing was a ruse. The two senior monks
were actually taken straight to the Nagchu PSB
detention centre, where they remain incarcerated.
The 30 year old head of the monastery's
"Democratic Management Committee" (the Communist
Party's oversight body within every Tibetan
religious institution), Tsundue, was informed by
authorities that his attendance was required at a
"meeting" — which also turned out to be in a cell
at the Nagchu PSB detention centre. The reasons
for the arrests are not known. Parents and
relatives of the detained monks are attempting to
make contact with them through the Nagchu PSB.

The duplicitous manner of these arrests is
telling. The Chinese know from recent experience
that barging into a monastery with massive force,
ransacking the place while beating up monks, and
then dragging away as many as they choose for
detention, can often lead to problems. The
authorities risk a mass uprising of monks or
nuns, especially if those dragged away are highly
respected people to begin with.

Which brings us around again to the case of Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche.

Phurbu Rinpoche (also called Bu Rong Na Rinpoche
-- Rinpoche meaning an "incarnate lama" but
translated by the Chinese as "Living Buddha") was
arrested at his home in Drango County, Kardze on
May 18 last year. As the spiritual preceptor for
two convents in the Drango area, as well as the
founder of a home for the aged and medical
services clinics in his community, Phurbu
Rinpoche is deeply loved and respected by
Tibetans. The charges against him were only
recently revealed at his trial in Dartsedo (Ch:
Kangding) — illegal possession of weapons and government land.

The 52 year old lama is the highest ranking
Tibetan teacher among the hundreds of people put
through the Chinese trial system since the latest
wave of Tibetan protests began last year. He is
also the first of these to have been allowed to
choose his own lawyers. His trial was reported
widely in the international media (at least in
comparison with other continuing incidents in
Tibet), and a development this week shows just
how important such attention can be. Judgement
and sentencing has been postponed indefinitely.

Legal experts said that such a move was rare for
a Chinese court and could indicate that the
unusually spirited defence presented in court and
the international publicity the case has
attracted could have prompted unexpected debate
among judicial officials over the sentence.

Rinpoche had selected his defence lawyers well,
and his ability to speak Chinese undoubtedly also
helped him. One of his legal defenders, Jian
Tianyong, was already on his way to the airport
when his partner, Li Fangping, received the
postponement call from a deputy judge in
Dartsedo. Both men are prominent civil rights
attorneys, and Mr. Jian was one of a group of
lawyers who had volunteered to defend the
Tibetans charged after the protests began last
year. Chinese authorities then warned the
lawyers' group to stay out of it, threatening
them with loss of their rights to practice law
(some of those threats were carried out). Lawyers
are frequently derided in western countries, but
these two Beijing-based defenders can well be considered heroes.

The Tibetan author, poet, and citizen journalist
Woeser had a translated account of Phurbu
Tsering's arrest and trial published in the Asian
Wall Street Journal this week. I link to Phayul
for this one mainly for the wonderful photograph,
which I've cropped here. Take a good look at the full size version over there.

Imagine the scene in a small Tibetan mountain
town in the center of the Kham region last May
18. All forms of communication with the town are
cut off before dawn, and all roads are blocked.
As more than 4,000 PLA troops, PAP forces and
special units divide up to surround and control
two nearby convents, over 1,000 security forces
take up positions and prepare their assault on
one small house. Their target is that dangerous
looking fellow grinning under the big sky.

It's very clear that Phurbu Tsering was being
framed, and they may still pull it off. He was
forced to sign a confession after four days of
real torture and threats against his family, and
he recanted that confession in court. The
firearms and bullets "found" in his living room
(a virtual public place, with visitors coming and
going constantly due to his high status in the
community) were never investigated as to their
origin, and were not even checked for
fingerprints. On the illegal land use charge
(involving his home for the elderly), documents
reviewed in court actually proved that the land
use permits were all above-board. Read Woeser's
piece for an excellent account of all this (and
by the way, she had a very fine profile published
in the NY Times last weekend). For a more
in-depth look into the trial proceedings,
including translated court documents, ICT is the place to go.

Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche's Chinese devotees have
maintained a website to support his work, with
information on the charities he established, the
Rest House for Elders, the new travellers' hostel
for visitors to Bu Rong Na Temple, his adoption
of orphans (including ethnic Chinese children)
and more. Background and history of the Bu Rong Na Temple is here.

International attention to specific cases can
have a positive effect on the treatment of
political prisoners, as in the case of the
recently released monk / filmmaker Golog Jigme
Gyatso, who first became aware of the
international pressure on his Chinese
interrogators by the relatively better treatment
he received as compared with other prisoners.
Perhaps Phurbu Rinpoche may have a chance for justice.

International pressure has been insufficient to
produce any movement at all on the part of the
PRC however, in the case of the abducted 11th
Panchen Lama. Chinese authorities disappeared the
young incarnate lama at the age of six (along
with his family), and there has been no evidence
of his existence during the past fourteen years
despite enquiries from many governments and
international organisations. Chinese authorities
insist that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima merely wants his
privacy, and refuse to provide so much as a
photograph. The Panchen Lama turned 20 years old
on April 25. The former abbot of Panchen Lama's
Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Chadrel
Rinpoche, was also the chairman of the
government-approved search committee in 1995. He
was tried and sentenced for "splittism" and
"leaking state secrets", and his sentence ended
in 2001. There has also been no credible evidence
of his existence or wellbeing since that time.

In an open letter to President Hu Jintao dated
April 27, the Speaker of the
democratically-elected Tibetan Parliament in
Exile, Penpa Tsering, expressed deep concern for
the well-being of the Panchen Lama — revealing
something which I have not seen reported elsewhere.

"According to media reports, a Japanese
journalist Yoichi Shimatsu had at a conference at
Qinghua University in Beijing stated that His
Eminence Panchen Rinpoche Gedhun Choekyi Nyima
had died of cancer some years ago, which is in
total contradiction to your government’s stated
position that all is well with H.E. Panchen Rinpoche."

It's time for China to come clean once and for
all on the fate of a young man who, for most of
his life, has been the world's youngest political prisoner.

If one has a cause that one wishes to express in
the most peaceful, non-threatening manner
possible, what do you do? One method used in
countless countries around the world is the old,
tried and true, candle-light vigil. For example,
there have been innumerable such vigils on behalf
of the aforementioned Panchen Lama over the years
(in cities and towns on every continent but
Antarctica). But if there's one thing China's
communist authority simply will not tolerate,
apparently, it's the candle-light vigil. Monks of
Lutsang Monastery in Mangra County, Amdo (Ch:
Qinghai) held a peaceful candle procession and
vigil on February 25 this year, the first day of
Losar, the Tibetan new year. The candle-bearing
monks were later arrested (109 of them) and
subjected to "severe patriotism re-education" for
nearly a month, when all but six were released.
The remaining six were said to be released from custody around April 10.

Now comes news via the Voice of Tibet radio
service that six Lutsang monks were arrested on
April 10, and four of them have already been
tried and sentenced to two year prison terms (the
other two were released). The specific charges
against the monks are unknown. Those convicted
are Kalsang Gyatso, 21, Soepa Gyatso, 24, Lungtok
Gyatso, 22, and Soepa Gyatso, 19. The strange
thing is that Lungtok (the far left photo) is one
of the six reportedly released around April 10.
The other names and photos do not match the
previously released names and photos, but the VOT
report says that two more Lutsang monks, Thabkhay
Gyatso and Kunchok Gyatso, were also arrested
late last week. Thabkhay Gyatso is also the name
of one of the six originally said to have been released on April 10.

The Chinese colonial authorities are experts in
preventing information from escaping Tibet,
through selective cell network closure, internet
gateway controls, restrictions on travel, and of
course prosecutions of those who attempt to
communicate with Tibetans outside the country.
But they're also quite keen on preventing
information from entering Tibet, as evidenced
this month in a crackdown on satellite receivers.

Radio Free Asia's Mandarin language service
reports that since March of this year, some
Tibetans in Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu
provinces, and in the T-"A"-R have been
installing their own satellite receivers. Chinese
authorities claim that this is a plot by "secret
agents from the Tibet independence movement" and
have been seizing the offending equipment and
installing "official" receivers in their place.
In Machu County alone, 170 sets of equipment were
replaced between April 10 - 23, depriving the
people of viewing news from India and other
neighbouring countries, overseas broadcasts
including Tibetan language programming from VOA
and RFA, as well as internet access. The new
receivers are only able to tune in China Central Television signals.

On the day he was to receive the honour of one of
the world's most prestigious literary awards,
Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo had one of his essays
published in the London Times in which he
declares the internet as God's gift to China. "It
is the best tool for the Chinese people in their
project to cast off slavery and strive for
freedom," he wrote. Mr. Liu received the 2009 PEN
/ Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award on
Tuesday — in absentia. He presently resides in a
windowless cell at an undisclosed location in
China. He has been in detention since December 8,
the day his Charter 08 appeal for democratic
reforms, signed by over 300 Chinese intellectuals, was published.

Didn't the Olympics hold some sort of promise of
progress toward human rights in China? Oh yes,
right -- never ever trust the CCP's promises.
Another signatory to Charter 08, law professor He
Weifang, has been sent into internal exile in
Xinjiang. Professor He tells the Daily Telegraph
that freedom of speech in China is now worse than it was before the Olympics.
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