Protesters demonstrate in Machu

Protesters demonstrate in Machu (Chinese: Maqu) county town in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu (Amdo) on March 16, 2008. (ICT)

There have been further protests in the past few days in Tibet as the crackdown on the plateau deepens, with mass detentions in different areas and some monasteries encircled by troops. In some areas, including Kardze in Sichuan province (Kham) and Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), there are signs that the authorities are provoking further unrest and frustration by requiring local people to sign denunciations of the Dalai Lama. According to reliable reports received by ICT, in some rural areas of eastern Tibet many Tibetans have fled villages or nomad encampments and are hiding out elsewhere to avoid arrest.

In some areas, such as around Pashoe county in Chamdo in the TAR, and around Wara monastery in Jomda county, Chamdo, local lamas and monks have intervened in an attempt to prevent the escalation of unrest. The authorities are continuing to attempt to block news reaching the outside world by targeting Tibetans with cell phones, with one source reporting the detention of a Tibetan for receiving text messages from family.

Tibet Protests Map 2008-2009

Click to view map of protest locations.

Tibetan protests have been reported in at least 42 county-level locations, as well as in Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan province), Lanzhou (the capital of Gansu province), and Beijing. Protests have occurred in many different monasteries, towns or villages within several individual counties. About three quarters of the county-level locations are in Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Sichuan, or Gansu provinces, outside the TAR.

Mass detentions at monasteries and in rural towns

Reports have reached ICT from exiled Tibetans and other sources of several hundred arrests in and around Kirti monastery in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, following violent reprisals for a pro-Dalai Lama protest and the burning and looting of a local police station. Sources report that monks from both Kirti and nearby Gormang monastery have been rounded up while others have fled in an attempt to avoid arrest. One source reported ‘three to four busloads’ of monks arrested on March 29 from Kirti during a security buildup in the area. According to another source, a Kirti monk committed suicide in the days following the March 16 protest.

The authorities are also reportedly targeting people in the area with cellphones who are suspected of sending out information about the protests and subsequent crackdown. After troops broke up protests at Kirti on March 16, photographs of some of the Tibetans killed by the authorities were sent to Tibetan exiles and circulated on the internet. At least eight Tibetans are reported to have been killed after police opened fire on the protest, which involved local monks and lay people, as well as students from the nearby middle school. Known among the dead are Lobsang Tashi, a monk from Thawo village, and Tsezen, a layperson from Thachung village.

One source close to the monastic community in the area told ICT that on March 16: “Many Tibetans…were shot under random fire, and were wounded but can’t go to the hospital because they don’t want the officials to know who they are. There were riots in the streets and cars are being burned and turned upside-down in revolt.”

At nearby Ragya monastery (Machen County, Golog TAP, Qinghai) on Sunday (March 16), local people performed a puja (prayer ceremony) for those killed at Kirti monastery. According to at least one reliable report, police surrounded the monastery and asked the senior monks to stop the religious ceremony, otherwise they would use force. The lamas then asked the monks to stop.

According to Tibetan exile sources, on March 28, armed police searched the rooms of monks at Dege monastery in Kardze searching for Dalai Lama photographs and other materials, and closed off the monastery, sealing some monks inside. According to unconfirmed reports, many monks from Dege have been arrested.

A senior lama from Wara monastery in Jomda county, Chamdo, persuaded monks and laypeople to stop protesting on March 31, according to reliable reports. A crowd had gathered after a quarrel between some young Tibetans and Chinese shop-keepers, which led to monks from the monastery joining local laypeople in a protest which involved calling for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. Although the lama reportedly succeeded in calming the situation, there has now been a security buildup in the town.

According to one source, similarly, a local abbot intervened to stop a protest linked to the detention of a Tibetan for putting up posters last week calling for the Dalai Lama’s return in Pashoe county, in Chamdo prefecture in the TAR.

Many Tibetans in Tibet are known to have been distressed at the possibility of the Dalai Lama “resigning” if violence continued, following his statement on March 18. Most of the protests on the plateau from March 19 onwards have been noticeably non-violent.

Fear in Tibetan countryside as crackdown intensifies

Sources in exile with close contacts in the region have reported numerous detentions and an increasing difficulty in obtaining news about the safety of family and friends in Tibet as the crackdown intensifies. Following protests in Machu (Chinese: Maqu) county town in Kanlho TAP in Gansu province, police are carrying out door-to-door searches and taking Tibetans away to unknown locations. One Tibetan from the area said: “No one knows where they are being taken. In some areas, all the men have fled to the mountains to avoid arrest. There is terrible fear everywhere.” Another Tibetan source said that in Bora village in Sangchu county in Gansu province: “Chinese security forces are increasing pressure on local people to hand over those who participated in the March 18 protest. Announcements about surrender abound in the area these days but nomads are afraid to give themselves up since they believe that they would be asked to sign denunciation letters against the Dalai Lama.”

In the Kardze area, officials are reportedly attempting to enforce a campaign requiring local people to denounce the Dalai Lama. In one township of Drango (Chinese: Luhuo) county, local villagers and monks clashed with a work team requiring them to sign a written document denouncing the Dalai Lama. More than ten monks were beaten and arrested, according to sources, and several hundred soldiers deployed in the town. One exiled Tibetan source with close contacts in the area told ICT: “Nobody is willing to sign the documents denouncing the Dalai Lama, which may lead to another bloody crackdown.”

As unrest has swept across the plateau, news has often reached the West directly from Tibetan sources participating in, or witnessing, the protests. The Washington, DC-based Radio Free Asia Tibetan Service heard from one such source in Amdo, speaking above the sound of a demonstration, on March 20: “In the Tseko area of Amdo, the monks are continuing peaceful protests as of March 20. About 2,000 Tibetans, both monk and laypersons, are involved in the protests. The protesters are calling for the Chinese leadership to open peaceful dialogue with the Dalai Lama and resolve the Tibetan issue peaceful. They are demanding a meaningful autonomous status inclusive of all Tibetan areas. They were also demanding the Chinese leadership to allow the Dalai Lama to visit the Amdo region. Right now there are no security forces in the area but we heard that they are coming. We have no freedom inside. We are right now protesting in front of county government offices. We are about 2,000 protestors, and we are protesting peacefully.” (Radio Free Asia)

‘A bird frightened by the sound of a bowstring’

In Lhasa, people’s work units all over the city have been required to write denunciations of the riots and protests in the city and in particular to denounce the ‘Dalai Clique’ and support government policies in the TAR, moves that are likely to lead to increased resentment against the authorities.

The first high-level delegation of senior Party and government officials to Lhasa since the outbreak of the protests visited Lhasa on March 23-24, led by Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu. Meng told members of management committees at Drepung, Sera, and the Jokhang temples that the Dalai Lama is “unfit to be a true follower of Buddhism,” and that the Party and government would “deepen education in patriotism” in monasteries.

Military check points have been established at every intersection of every major road. According to at least three reports, during the visits of the foreign media and diplomatic missions to Lhasa last week, military personnel and vehicles were kept out of sight. When the diplomats left Lhasa at around 1 pm on Saturday (March 29), security was built up again in the Barkhor area. A source in Lhasa, writing on an English-language website, said that everyone in the city “became like a bird frightened by the sound of a bowstring”. Reliable reports received by ICT, and published by RFA and the Tibetan government in exile, refer to a protest that occurred in the Barkhor area that afternoon that appears to have been timed to coincide with the diplomats’ visit, although it seems to have taken place after they left. An eyewitness cited by RFA referred to the involvement of at least 80 people in the incident.

According to reports from Lhasa, some Tibetans taken into custody after March 14 have now been released from detention. Several sources have reported detainees being subject to aggressive interrogation, as well as being severely beaten in custody and deprived of food and water. Other families have no idea of the whereabouts of their relatives or friends after they were taken away.

ICT recommendations
    • ICT calls for the Chinese government to honor the ChineseConstitution’s commitment to the freedoms of speech and association, and not treat peaceful protest as a crime. Diplomats and other international observers should be allowed access to the trials of Tibetans charged with protest-related crimes.


    • International governments should call on Beijing for an immediate account of all the missing and dead by name and location and assurances that detainees will be processed according to international standards of due process and rule of law.


  • Competent high-level leadership within the PRC government should meet with the Dalai Lama or his representatives for formal, substantive results-based dialogue.