By Richard Finney
Authorities in western China’s Sichuan province have detained two senior Tibetan monks on suspicion of holding prayers for the good health of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, an India-based Tibetan rights group said this week.
Khenpo Paga and Geshe Orgyen, both high-ranking monks at Chokri monastery in Draggo (in Chinese, Luhuo) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, were taken into custody only a few days after they organized a prayer ceremony on Jan. 25, the Tibetan Centre For Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said.
“The prayer ceremony was held following the news of the Dalai Lama’s medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic in the United States,” TCHRD said in a Feb. 8 statement.
Video and photos circulating on social media sites and obtained by RFA show hundreds of Tibetan men, women, and children seated before a large shrine at the monastery and praying before a large image of the Dalai Lama, whose photos are banned by Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas.
The Dalai Lama, 80, fled Tibet into exile in India in 1959 and is reviled by Chinese leaders as a dangerous separatist who seeks to split the formerly self-governing region from Beijing’s rule.
In what he calls a Middle Way Approach, though, the Dalai Lama himself says that he seeks only a “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet as a part of China, with protections for the region’s language, religion, and culture.
News of the prayers at Chokri spread widely following the ceremony, prompting authorities on Jan. 31 to issue a ban on the sale of photos of the exiled spiritual leader in shops and stores in the county, with punishment threatened for store owners failing to comply, TCHRD said.
Paga, aged about 40, and Orgyen, aged about 50, had both completed religious training at Tibetan monasteries in exile in South India before returning to Tibet, TCHRD said.
“Following the detention of the abbot and the senior monk of [Chokri] monastery, local authorities have deployed a large number of Chinese security forces to monitor and control both the monastic and lay community in Tehor [township],” the rights group added.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.