By Maryam Hasan
Chinese authorities have sentenced the director of a Tibetan monastery in western China’s Qinghai province and two of his subordinates to between nine and 11 years in prison for “instigating” the self-immolation of another monk, according to local source.
The three monks belonged to Bongtak monastery in Themchen (in Chinese, Tianjun) county of Tsonub (Haixi) prefecture and were implicated in the death of Damchoe Sangpo, a 40-year-old monk who burned himself to death in February in protest against Chinese rule, the source said.
“The director of Bongtak monastery, Venerable Jamsem, was sentenced to nine years, while his subordinates Khendup and Samgyal were sentenced to 11 and 10 years, respectively,” said a resident of the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In addition, the source said, a layman named Damchoe was rearrested by police for organizing a campaign to collect signatures from Tibetans in the Bongtak area calling on higher-level authorities to release eight monks detained in the aftermath of Damchoe Sangpo’s self-immolation.
The layman Damchoe, who is from Kharma in Themchen county, had been previously arrested for instigating Damchoe Sangpo’s self-immolation, but a Chinese lawyer had successfully argued in his defense and police released him from detention.
The layman is married with two children aged two and five years old, and has an 80-year-old mother.
“We local Tibetans were shocked by the extent of the Chinese restrictions, which even includes petitioning,” the source said.
The source said that the majority of the Bongtak monks had left the monastery following increased Chinese pressure.
“Another 10 young Tibetan monks are still detained in Themchen county and the county police said they would only be released if they agree to disrobe,” the source said.
“Currently, two China loyalist monks have been put in charge of Bongtak monastery, while another monk … was pressured to take a high-level position there, but disrobed to escape the appointment.”
Damchoe Sangpo set himself ablaze on Feb. 17 after protesting Chinese security intrusions at the Bongtak monastery.
He had objected to the cancelling by Chinese authorities of a traditional prayer festival at the monastery and to the presence of Chinese security forces.
Chinese security measures had already been tightened at Bongtak following an earlier protest by a monk protesting mining in the area.
Damchoe Sangpo was the 22nd confirmed self-immolation by Tibetans protesting Chinese policies and rule in Tibetan regions since February 2009.
On June 27, a Tibetan woman reportedly named Dekyi Choezom, and believed to be around 40 years old, set herself on fire in Qinghai province’s Yulshul (Yushu) county, bringing to 42 the number of Tibetans who have self-immolated since the wave of fiery protests began.
She was reportedly among a group of 70 families protesting being evicted from land seized to make way for new government offices in the aftermath of a massive earthquake in 2010.
Nearly all of the self-immolations have taken place in Tibetan-populated provinces in western China as Tibetans challenge Chinese policies which they say have robbed them of their rights.
The first self-immolation protest in Tibet’s capital Lhasa was reported in May when two young Tibetan men set themselves ablaze in a central square in the heavily guarded city.
Reported by Takla Gyal for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.