More than a hundred monks who held a peaceful candlelit vigil on the first day of Tibetan New Year (February 25) have been taken from their monastery, Lutsang, in Mangra county (Chinese: Guinan) in Qinghai (the Tibetan area of Amdo), for ‘study’ at an unknown location. According to a Tibetan source in exile with connections in the area, around 100 monks were taken from the monastery last week while a number of the remaining monks have undergone interrogation, torture and beatings, according to one source. The phrase ‘taken for study’ means that the monks will be taken to a location where they will undergo political education classes. Hundreds of monks from the Lhasa monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Ganden were ‘taken for study’ to a military camp in Golmud, Qinghai, from April 2008 for several months. Their families were not informed of their whereabouts. Some were also removed from monasteries in Lhasa in the buildup to the March 10 anniversary this year.

Tension is high in the area, with the same Tibetan source reporting that there are two or three police vehicles stationed in the middle of even the smallest and most remote villages near the monastery in Qinghai, and that people are being forbidden from traveling from one village to another. “I remember exactly this thing happening during the Cultural Revolution, being forbidden to travel even to the next village,” said the source, who grew up in the area, and whose name is withheld. “It’s control by terror,” he added. The source added that according to information from the area, Tibetan students have had their cell-phones confiscated by police in an apparent attempt to stop information about the crackdown reaching the outside world. Students were told their phones would be returned “at the end of the month”.

On February 25, the first day of Tibetan New Year (Losar) Lutsang monks had marched to the government headquarters in Mangra, where they asked for the central Chinese government to “recognize the will of the Tibetan people,” and called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, according to the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia. They said that they were holding the candle-lit vigil in memory of the people killed during the Chinese authorities’ crackdown on the protests last year, and as a “New Year’s gift to Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet.” After half an hour or so, the monks were persuaded by Tibetan government and Party officials who had emerged from the building – as well as senior Tibetans – to return to their monastery. However, police later arrived at the monastery and demanded that the organizers of the protest ‘surrender’ within 48 hours, and that any portraits of the Dalai Lama had to be handed over to the authorities. (ICT report, Authorities surround monastery; issue 48 hour ultimatum for organizers to “surrender” after latest protest in Tibet – February 27, 2009)

Following the 48-hour ultimatum period police took away 13 monks for interrogation, who were beaten in detention before their families were summoned and told to keep the monks sequestered at home, according to a Chinese-language blog posting. On March 2, police again detained 11 of the 13 monks detained previously, according to the same source, and police also acquired the names of around 70 monks who participated in the march and vigil in a list compiled by the monastery’s ‘Democratic Management Committee’ – a government-appointed body instituted in monasteries in Tibet.

In the ensuing days, around 120 monks were interrogated both at the monastery and in other locations, with many if not most suffering beatings or torture during the process, according to the same single source. One monk was reportedly deafened in one ear as result of beatings.

The blog posting continues: “The authorities have not said where they are taking the 109 monks and have not said for how long, saying only that they are to be given secluded [bishi – shut-away style] thought education, including ‘patriotic education’ and ‘rule of law education’… When the 109 monks received this information, they calmly rushed to the temple and presented khatag [Tibetan white blessing scarves]. In actual fact, these 109 monks are facing unimaginable imprisonment, just like the 700 monks from Drepung, Sera and Ganden last year, who were detained in a military prison in Golmud for as long as three of four months.”

According to the Chinese authorities’ own figures, around 1200 people remain unaccounted for following the wave of protests that swept across the Tibetan plateau from March 10, 2008. (ICT report, A Great Mountain Burned by Fire: China’s Crackdown on Tibet – March 9, 2009)

Detaining individuals without informing families of their whereabouts contravenes notification procedures under China’s Criminal Law. As a matter of urgency, ICT is calling for the government of the PRC to provide unimpeded access to Tibet, including Tibetan areas of Qinghai, for UN human rights experts and other independent observers to investigate the situation in Tibet. China should also provide unrestricted foreign media access to Tibet, including the Tibetan areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region.