Tibetans clash with police at Rebgong prayer festival


www.TibetanReivew.net, Feb 28’08

Police and paramilitary troops took into custody on Feb 21 some 200 Tibetans, many of them monks, during a series of protests at an annual religious festival at Rebkong County in Qinghai Province only to release them all by next morning as anger over it escalated the protests. The exact cause of the initial protest remains unclear, although that does not seem to be important as the Tibetan crowds simply appeared to have seized the occasion to give vent to their general anger over the Chinese government rule.

Some 20,000 Tibetans, according to the exile Tibetan government’s online information service Tibet.net Feb 25, had gathered at Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren) County of Malho prefecture in Qinghai province since Feb 10, for the annual Monlam Prayer ceremony being held there, with the local government organizing fireworks for the occasion, as in the past several years.

“They used tear gas, and most of the 200 Tibetans who were detained were monks from the area,” Radio Free Asia (RFA, US) Feb 22 quoted one source as saying.

The report said that around 200 policemen, both armed and unarmed, had been sent into the crowds to ensure that no protest took place. According to the RFA report, trouble began when on Feb 21, the festival’s penultimate day, a policeman tried to question a man, only to see him being soon surrounded by many other Tibetans. Matters escalated when some other Tibetans outside a nearby restaurant began shouting slogans and attacking police with sticks and stones, the report cited witnesses as saying. Three truckloads of armed police were rushed in, resulting in some 200 Tibetans, mostly monks, being taken into custody. This angered the crowd more and resulted in more protests around the same time.

Pressure from the protesting crowds was reported to have forced the local authorities to release all the detained Tibetans. Many of them were reported to have been severely beaten and tortured, with two of them being required to be taken to capital Xining for treatment. The evidences of torture further angered the Tibetans, who refused to stop demonstrating. It took an intervention by the abbot of Rebkong Monastery to bring the demonstrations to an end.

The local government later posted a statement, suggesting there was only a minor incident which had come to an end. “Local Tibetans gathered for the Monlam festival protested when police interrogated a Tibetan. Those Tibetan youths who were involved in the protests were interrogated and those who were slightly injured were handed over to their parents for advice and guidance. So the county is peaceful as before,” RFA quoted the statement as saying.

But the matter is not likely to end there. During the demonstrations, people were reported to have shouted slogans calling for Tibet’s independence, said the RFA report. And the Tibet.net report said the protesters were taken into custody for shouting “Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama”. This could mean arrest of people considered ringleaders and the main protesters after further police investigations. Indeed, Reuters Feb 24 quoted the Rebkong County notice as saying police were holding “people whose mistakes are considered heavy for further investigation”.

The Reuters report said the whole incident began with a clash between a group of Tibetan youths and a Muslim Hui trader over the price of balloons. “Members of the crowd … tried to intervene, and then beat the policemen, who ran away. Rumours that the police had beaten up some local youths spread through the crowd, and many other police were beaten or chased away, leading to large-scale unrest,” it quoted a witness as saying. It put the number of those detained at 100, of whom 90 were released the same day and the remaining 10 the following day. It said 20 policemen, all Tibetans, were taken to hospital.

Reuters said the releases took place after protesters gathered outside government offices and monks at local monasteries threatened to boycott New Year rituals and dance ceremonies scheduled for later that day. The RFA report had said many of those detained were performers for the Monlam festival.

The Great Prayer Festival, which falls from the 4th to 11th day of the 1st Tibetan month, was established in 1409 by Je Tsong Khapa, the putative founder of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Rebkong County was at the centre of a Dalai Lama inspired campaign two years ago to discourage Tibetans from using or dealing in furs of endangered wild lives.

Relations between Tibetans and Chinese, including Muslim Chinese, have been uneasy for a number of years, with petty disputes between them often spiralling into communal clashes, whether in Tibet Autonomous Region or Qinghai, or Sichuan and elsewhere, with Tibetans resenting threats to their traditional land’s historical identity.


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