Tibetan monks sent to labor camps for spreading news of Buddhist statue’s destruction

Eleven Tibetans beaten and arrested by Chinese authorities in January for spreading news of the destruction of a 99-foot-tall Buddha statue and dozens of prayer wheels in southwestern China’s Sichuan province have been sent to labor camps in the region, Tibetans with knowledge of the situation said Friday.

Monks Tashi Dorjee, Tsering Samdup, Nyima Lhamo, and Abbot Pelga, along with Pelga’s assistant Nyima, and six other unidentified Tibetans were arrested following the destruction of the statue and 45 traditional prayer wheels in Drago (Luhuo) county of Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in December 2021, said a Tibetan in exile who declined to be named for safety reasons.

“[They] are still being held in Chinese custody and now have been sent to labor camps,” he told RFA.

The 11 were arrested on suspicion of sending news and photos of the statue’s destruction — reported exclusively by RFA in early January — to contacts outside the region.

“A few of them also sustained injuries from beatings and torture, though much about their current conditions remain unknown,” the Tibetan in exile said.

Authorities have restrictions still in place at both the monastery and in the county, he said.

“A police station has been set up near the Mani prayer wheel that was demolished earlier by the Chinese authorities in Drago,” he said. “A few monks from the monastery and a few other individuals are stationed in this police station to keep an eye on the daily activities of local Tibetans and the monks of Drago Monastery.

“It is very difficult to explain how intense the situation in Drago is at the moment,” the source said.

Authorities in China’s Sichuan province forced Tibetan monks and residents to watch the demolition of the Buddha statue following official complaints that it was too high, Tibetan sources told RFA in an earlier report.

The prayer wheels authorities destroyed at the same time had been set up for use by Tibetan pilgrims and other worshipers, they said.

Pema Gyal, a researcher at Tibet Watch, a nonprofit that promotes the human rights, said that Tibetans who live in Drago county have told his group that are constantly interrogated by Chinese authorities and face a number of restrictions on their activity.

“So, it is clear that the Chinese government continues to suppress the Tibetans,” he told RFA.

A Tibetan monk from Drago who now lives in exile said Chinese authorities are wielding a heavy hand because of previous protests staged in the county.

Chinese government officials are “extra cautious of the region and try to eliminate everything that empowers the Tibetan language and Buddhist institutions,” the monk said.

A previous protest against Chinese rule took place in 2012 in Drago, leading to the arrests of many Tibetans, eight of whom are still serving prison terms, RFA recently learned from Tibetan sources with knowledge of the matter.

They include Sonam Lhundup, who was sentenced to life in prison; Chakbe, sentenced to 12 years; Kunthok, sentenced to 13 years; Kundup, sentenced to 11 years; and Tashi Dhargay and Namgyal Dhoundup, who each were sentenced to 14 years. Two other unidentified Tibetans are serving sentences of unknown durations.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.



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