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China detains over 1,000 Tibetans demonstrating against Chinese dam construction — Radio Free Asia

Police on Friday arrested more than 1,000 Tibetans, including monks from at least two local monasteries, in southwestern China’s Sichuan province after they protested the construction of a dam expected to destroy six monasteries and force the relocation of two villages, two sources from inside Tibet told Radio Free Asia.

The arrested individuals – both monks and local residents – are being held in various places throughout Dege county in Kardze Tibetan Prefecture because the police do not have a single place to detain them, said the sources who requested anonymity for safety reasons.

Those arrested have been forced to bring their own bedding and tsampa – a staple food for Tibetans that can be used to sustain themselves for long periods of time, the sources said.

“That police are asking Tibetans to bring their own tsampa and bedding is a sign that they will not be released anytime soon,” one of the sources said.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, Chinese authorities deployed specially trained armed police in Kardze’s Upper Wonto village region to arrest more than 100 Tibetan monks from Wonto and Yena monasteries along with local residents, many of whom were beaten and injured, and later admitted to Dege County Hospital for medical treatment, sources said.

Citizen videos from Thursday, shared exclusively with RFA, show Chinese officials in black uniforms forcibly restraining monks, who can be heard crying out to stop the dam construction.

Following news of the mass arrests, many Tibetans from Upper Wonto village who work in other parts of the country returned to their hometown and visited the detention centers to call for the release of the arrested Tibetans, sources said. They, too, were arrested.

The Dege County Hospital did not immediately return RFA’s requests for comment.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington hasn’t commented on the arrests other than in a statement issued Thursday that said the country respects the rule of law.

“China protects the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese nationals in accordance with the law,” the statement said.

Massive dam project

The arrests followed days of protests and appeals by local Tibetans since Feb. 14 for China to stop the construction of the Gangtuo hydropower station.

RFA reported on Feb. 15 that at least 300 Tibetans gathered outside Dege County Town Hall to protest the building of the Gangtuo dam, which is part of a massive 13-tier hydropower complex on the Drichu River with a total planned capacity 13,920 megawatts.

The dam project is on the Drichu River, called Jinsha in Chinese, which is located on the upper reaches of the Yangtze, one of China’s most important waterways.

Local Tibetans have been particularly distraught that the construction of the hydropower station will result in the forced resettlement of two villages – Upper Wonto and Shipa villages – and six key monasteries in the area – Yena, Wonto, and Khardho in Wangbuding township in Dege county, and Rabten, Gonsar and Tashi in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, sources told RFA.

Sources on Friday also confirmed that some of the arrested monks with poor health conditions were allowed to return to their monasteries.

However, the monasteries – which include Wonto Monastery, known for its ancient murals dating back to the 13th century – remained desolate on the eve of Chotrul Duchen, or the Day of Miracles, which is commemorated on the 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, and marks the celebration of a series of miracles performed by the Buddha.

“In the past, monks of Wonto Monastery would traditionally preside over large prayer gatherings and carry out all the religious activities,” said one of the sources. “This time, the monasteries are quiet and empty. … It’s very sad to see such monasteries of historical importance being prepared for destruction. The situation is the same at Yena Monastery.”

Protests elsewhere

Tibetans in exile have been holding mass demonstrations in various parts of the world, including in Dharamsala, India, home to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

In the past week, Tibetans have demonstrated before the Chinese embassies, including those in New York and Switzerland, with more such protests and solidarity campaigns planned in Canada and other countries.

“The events in Derge are an example of Beijing’s destructive policies in Tibet,” said Kai Müller, managing director of the International Campaign for Tibet, in a statement on Friday. “The Chinese regime tramples on the rights of Tibetans and ruthlessly and irretrievably destroys valuable Tibetan cultural assets.”

“Beijing’s development and infrastructure projects are not only a threat to Tibetans, but also to regional security, especially when it comes to water supplies to affected Asian countries,” he added.

Human Rights Watch told RFA that it is monitoring the development but that information from inside Tibet is extremely rare given China’s tight surveillance and restrictions imposed on information flow.

“People who send information out and videos like this face imprisonment and torture,” said Maya Wang, the group’s interim China director.

“Even calling families in the diaspora are reasons for imprisonment,” she said. “What we do see now are actually … typical scenes of repression in Tibet, but we don’t often get to see [what] repression looks like in Tibet anymore.”

Additional reporting by Pelbar, Yeshi Dawa, Tashi Wangchuk, Palden Gyal and Sonam Lhamo for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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