gathered to push for the release of popular Tibetan lama

A huge crowd of Tibetans gathered to push for the release of popular Tibetan lama Khenpo Kartse at a prayer festival in Nangchen, Kham.

A huge crowd of hundreds of Tibetans gathered peacefully at a prayer festival in eastern Tibet last week to call for the release of a respected Tibetan lama who was imprisoned in December and may face criminal charges. The gathering followed a rare silent vigil outside a prison on January 15 to protest the detention of Khenpo (abbot) Kartse (Karma Tsewang), indicating the strength of concern about the popular monk, who is said to be seriously ill in prison with a liver condition (ICT report, Rare vigil outside prison to support popular Tibetan monk).

The latest protest occurred on the last day, February 6, of a five-day prayer festival (Monlam) held at Japa monastery in Nangchen (Chinese: Nanqian) county in Qinghai’s Yulshul (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The Tibetans, from Nangchen and surrounding areas in the Tibetan region of Kham, gathered for a peaceful sit-in protest from 10 am until 3 pm “to express their indignation and disappointment at the lack of clear explanations from authorities on the status of Khenpo Kartse,” a Tibetan source told Radio Free Asia (RFA, Thousands of Tibetans Pressure Monastery to Push for Monk’s Release). The crowd dispersed after they were assured that the people’s concerns would be addressed “in a few days”.

The peaceful gathering followed two earlier protests – the prison vigil, and a protest of hundreds of monks joined by local people who gathered to call for his release on December 12, 2013. Monks with white headbands held hand-made banners with wording in Tibetan and Chinese characters proclaiming messages including: ‘Please release Khenpo Kartse’ and ‘Understand the difficulties of students separated from their teacher’. In footage shown by Voice of America’s Tibetan service, a county level official is shown shouting at the monks. (VOA, / Sixteen monks detained after the protest have now been released after being interrogated about Khenpo Kartse.

In a further demonstration of the strength of local feeling about the lama’s arrest, officials from Nangchen travelled to Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu) where the Khenpo is being held, to express their concerns about the innocence of Khenpo Kartse but to no avail, according to Tibetan sources in exile in contact with people in the region.

Khenpo Kartse’s lawyer, who has not been allowed access to him, has been told by Chamdo police that the case involves endangering state security, according to Beijing-based Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser. Expressing fears that the authorities risk further escalation of the situation in the area by convicting the abbot, a Tibetan from the Amdo area in contact with some Tibetan sources said: “This is a very dangerous moment for the Khenpo and the local people.” In a reference to a highly respected religious teacher who was active in helping the community and who is now serving a life sentence on trumped-up bombing charges, the Tibetan said: “It is feared that Khenpo Kartse may become the second Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche.”

Protests by local people against the sentencing of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche continued even years after his arrest, with Tibetans defying intense security crackdowns to express their distress at his continued imprisonment. (ICT report, Tibetans defy security crackdown to demonstrate in support of imprisoned Tibetan lama).

Karma Tsewang is a highly-educated and respected abbot (Khenpo) at the Gongya Monastery in Nangchen, Kyegudo (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Qinghai Province. He is believed to be seriously ill with a liver condition, according to new reports from Tibetans. He has not been allowed access to the doctor who has been treating him for some time with his medical condition. His relatives have also been denied access to him.

Woeser said: “If he [Khenpo Kartse] should be convicted, it would be like the sky falling.” (Associated Press, January 17, 2014).