Indian monastery aids Tibetan monks facing crackdown

Christian Science Monitor

July 11, 2011

The Kirti Monastery in Dharamsala, an Indian hill town home to thousands of exiled Tibetans, has become a crisis center for the turmoil at its sister monastery under lockdown in Sichuan, China.


Perched on a hill in northern India, Kirti Monastery overlooks a picturesque green valley carpeted with Himalayan cedars. All appears peaceful.

But the serene image belies the crisis response management happening inside, where two monks work all hours to gather news from Tibetan monks they say are under government lockdown across the border in China. Buddhist monasteries are not normally crisis communications centers, but Kirti has assumed that role in an effort to aid the monks at its Tibetan sister monastery of the same name in southwest China.

The ad hoc effort at the monastery in India shows how technology and savvy on the part of a few can circumvent China’s stringent communications clampdowns. Nevertheless, “uncensored communication links from Kirti are fragile, discrete, and under constant threat of surveillance and disruption by Chinese government authorities and security forces,” says Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

On March 16, just after the 52nd anniversary of Tibet’s failed uprising against China in 1959, a young monk from Kirti Monastery in Amdo Ngaba, a Tibetan district of Sichuan, set himself on fire as a form of protest. Shortly after the monk’s death, Chinese placed the Amdo Ngaba monastery and its approximately 2,500 monks on lockdown. Nearly four months later reports indicate that conditions remain tense.

The repression in Amdo Ngaba is so severe that in April the Dalai Lama, who relinquished his political role that same month, said in a statement: “I am very concerned that this situation if allowed to go on may become explosive with catastrophic consequences for the Tibetans in Ngaba.”

What happened?

According to the monks in India, about 300 monks were taken away by Chinese authorities in April. Classes and prayers have stopped and remaining monks were forced to take “patriotic re-education” classes.

Some 400 government officials are camped out at the monastery in China, said the International Campaign for Tibet, a US-based advocacy group. Cameras and recording devices are positioned throughout. Phone calls and e-mail from Kirti Monastery in China are monitored by Chinese authorities who can detain or arrest people they deem a threat to China’s control over Tibet.

Though China has not officially acknowledged the lockdown, Chinese police claim the self-immolation of the young monk who precipitated it “was a carefully planned and implemented criminal case, aimed at triggering disturbances,” according to Xinhua, China’s state news agency.

To quash other potential disturbances, Chinese police arrested hundreds of monks although there were no displays of violence after the self-immolation.

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