(BBC, China denies blockading monastery where monk burnt himself)
Today, a month after the footage was shot, Kirti monastery remains under lockdown with monks not being allowed to leave. Although food bought and distributed by monastery officials is now being allowed into Kirti, monks still do not have enough to eat, according to exile sources in touch with contacts in the area. Some lay people, mostly elderly Tibetans in their sixties and seventies, have continued to maintain a vigil near the monastery’s main entrance and along the roadway in fear that Kirti monks may be taken to prison by the authorities. Monks from other monasteries in the county are forbidden from coming into the county town, and strict controls on movement have been clamped on all the monasteries, whether directly or indirectly.
An intensive “patriotic education” campaign is underway at Kirti. According to the same sources, yesterday (April 19) armed police, soldiers and officials in groups of ten went into dormitory blocks in the monastery compound to question the monks. Some monks were beaten if their answers were not as the officials and soldiers required.
The new footage from Ngaba comes prior to upcoming round of U.S.-China human rights dialogue, where the State Department is expected to raise the crisis at Kirti monastery directly with Chinese officials. The U.S. State Department expressed concerns about the situation in Ngaba on April 14 and 19. (ICT report, List of prisoners and “disappeared” Tibetans in Ngaba crackdown: situation provokes U.S. government concern).
The new footage includes the following:
- The first images seen of 20-year old monk Phuntsog after he set fire to himself near his monastery, Kirti, on the third anniversary of major protests in March, 2008, which led to at least ten people being killed. The footage depicts Phuntsog sitting in a car on March 16, clearly badly burned and seemingly in shock, before he was taken away by monks and laypeople from the scene. He later died in hospital.
- Footage of a heavily manned police checkpoint and a sign in Chinese reading: “Passage forbidden” outside Kirti monastery in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) with a stupa from the monastery clearly visible in the background.
- Footage of a mass gathering of monks and laypeople at Phuntsog’s cremation on March 19, including monks chanting prayers and draping khatags (white blessing scarves) on his body.
- Clandestine images of Tibetans apparently being detained and troops of People’s Armed Police in riot gear in Ngaba town, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo) on the days following the self-immolation.
The situation in Ngaba is still tense a month after the authorities imposed a rigorous clampdown following Phuntsog’s self-immolation and peaceful protests that followed. There have been more than 36 detentions and disappearances in the area over the past few weeks, including of a 16-year old boy who was seized during a late-night raid by police, and the brother and uncle of the monk who died. Due to the authorities’ attempts to impose an information blackout in the area, full details are not known of all detainees and others who have disappeared or been beaten and tortured. It is remarkable given the security clampdown in the area that the footage screened today emerged from the area.
The Chinese government has attempted to convey the impression that the situation in the area is “normal”, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei this week denying reports of tensions, and saying: “According to our knowledge, the monks in the Kirti monastery enjoy a normal life and normal Buddhist activities, and the local social order is also normal.”
According to reports from Kirti monks in exile, over the past month local people have stopped their tradition of circumambulating the monastery due to the heavy troop presence surrounding Kirti. But in the past couple of weeks officials unblocked a section of the mani (prayer) wheels, and instructed local people to come and turn them for television cameras in order to represent the situation as “normal”.
A Kirti monk now in exile in Dharamsala, India, told ICT: “Yesterday a Foreign Ministry spokesman told a press briefing that there were still religious observances going on, worshippers coming and going, and monks free to leave to conduct pujas (a daily ritual of prayers and offerings) in local households. The fact is that the monastery is encircled by armed soldiers 24 hours a day, while inside government officials intimidate and harass the monks under the guise of a ‘Patriotic Religion’ re-education campaign. They have fenced off all the prayer wheels around the perimeter to prevent people from worship, and blocked off all the gaps in the perimeter wall, turning the compound into a prison, and now that the monks don’t even have food to eat day by day. How can the government talk about security and normality? If the government’s account is correct, then foreign reporters and observers should be allowed in to see for themselves.”
Crackdown revealed in vivid footage: details
The footage, in the form of several short clips, depicts the following:
- People’s Armed Police manning a checkpoint at Kirti monastery, with the stupa named: “Liberates all who see it” in the south-west corner of the monastery compound visible in the background. (A building under construction also in the background is a hotel/shop complex being built by a Tibetan entrepreneur.)
- The first images of Phuntsog following his self-immolation. He appears to be in a private car and seems to be in shock, with the burns on his body clearly visible. This image was apparently taken soon after he was taken away from security personnel by monks and laypeople. According to Tibetan sources in exile, security personnel who put out the fire started to beat Phuntsog, and local people managed to take him away and back to the monastery. They later took him to hospital for medical treatment, where he died in the early hours of March 17. The Chinese state media confirmed Phuntsog’s death, but included the false information that Kirti monks later forcibly took him out of hospital. (ICT report, Chinese authorities confirm death of monk after self-immolation; military crackdown at Kirti).
- The footage shows a Tibetan in the custody of armed security personnel being led into a building, while other helmeted Special Police officers (part of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police) go into the building behind them. A group of police in green uniforms, likely to be People’s Armed Police, come into the shot marching in formation with riot shields raised.
- One of the scenes in the footage depicts black-uniformed police and an armored personnel carrier outside the police station in Ngaba on the main road just east of the main gate of the monastery. This was the police station attacked by Tibetans during protests in March, 2008, which led to the deaths of at least ten Tibetans. (ICT report, Tibet at a Turning Point).
- In the footage of Phuntsog’s cremation, the camera has panned out to show thousands of people gathered at the traditional burial ground to the west of the monastery on March 18. Monks and laypeople can be heard chanting the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’. Monks can also be seen laying khatags (Tibetan white blessing scarves) on Phuntsog’s body. A Tibetan from Amdo who is now in exile and who spoke to some sources said: “The people really wanted to show their respect for this young monk’s sacrifice for his country and freedom. I think the authorities may have been quite shocked by the numbers of people but the ceremonies went peacefully. People noticed many strangers in plain clothes amidst the crowds who were certainly police, and there were also police who were more visible.” (ICT report, Amidst heavy security presence, thousands of Tibetans attend funeral of monk who set fire to himself in Ngaba (UPDATED March 20)).
- The footage includes some clips of military exercises in the Ngaba area, which took place in September 2010 according to VOA Tibetan Service. According to VOA’s sources, local people were compelled to watch live heavy munitions firing exercises on hilltop targets and on buildings. A fake building with a Tibetan style of architecture was created and set ablaze in a demonstration of military fire-power that appears to have been intended to intimidate.
The banner on a PAP truck depicted in the new footage reads in Chinese: “Cherish the masses, give a good impression of the soldiers.” Another bears the slogan: “Unity is strength, unity is victory.” A third reads: “In times of emergency, strike heavily at the front line.”
Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The footage made available today attests to the courage and determination of Tibetans to deliver proof of the situation in Ngaba to the outside world. Tensions are high in Tibet, and it will not be calmed by Party sloganeering and patriotic re-education – or by other means of compulsion and the use of force. We call on the Chinese authorities to address the legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people by engaging with them in a dignified transparent manner, based on equality, and in accordance with internationally recognized norms of behavior and human rights.”
In a rare statement on the escalating tensions at Kirti, the Dalai Lama said: “The current situation prevailing at Kirti Monastery in Ngaba in northeastern Tibet is extremely grim because of the stand-off between the Chinese military forces and the local Tibetans. The monastery, housing approximately 2500 monks, is completely surrounded by Chinese armed forces, who at one point prevented vital food and other supplies from entering the monastic compound. […] I am very concerned that this situation if allowed to go on may become explosive with catastrophic consequences for the Tibetans in Ngaba.” (https://savetibet.org/media-center/tibet-news/appeal-his-holiness-dalai-lama-regarding-blockade-kirti-monastery).
Note: the footage was broadcast today with Tibetan-language commentary on the Kunleng program at 10.00 EST (USA) on http://www.voanews.com/tibetan-english/news/
For press queries about the footage contact: [email protected]
 The Special Police Unit was founded in 1982 as an “Anti-Hijacking Special Police Unit” and is now a part of the People’s Armed Police, with “clear duties […] of anti-hijacking, anti-terror, and anti-riot.”(www.chinamil.com.cn/item/zgtj/index.htm).
The same official article states: “In the new situation, the Special Police fully carry out the sacred duties of maintaining state security and social stability, work hard to attain ‘special’ successes, and strive for military perfection.” The People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police come under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, not the government. The Special Police were also seen in Lhasa when protests turned into rioting on March 14, 2008.