Since March 17, the Tongkyap monastery, located in northeast Tibet, has been put on lockdown by Chinese authorities. Hundreds of monks have been kept inside in order to undergo “political re-education.” The reason: one of the monks at this monastery wrote a book about the spate of self-immolations by Tibetan monks that started in 2008, and which continues today.
“Breath and Truth” was written by a monk named Titsun, and published by the Tongkyap monastery on March 8. It talks about Iama Saop Rinpoche, another monk from this monastery who set himself on fire in January 2012. The book appears to have angered the Chinese government, which, according to Tibetan human rights activists, dispatched police and state officials to the monastery on Sunday. Titsun was reportedly arrested a few days earlier, on March 11.
The cover of Titsun's book.
The Tibetan Centre For Human Rights and Democracy, which is based in Dharamsala, India, published this photo showing what they believe to be Chinese officials’ white cars parked in front of the monastery.
According to the International Campaign for Tibet, 89 Tibetans have died in self-immolations since 2009. Many Tibetans accuse the Chinese government of disrespecting their culture, and demand independence for Tibet as well as the return from exile of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. China forbids journalists from accessing areas where Tibetans live.
"The authorities are ill-disposed toward the monastery because it has a history of rebelliousness"
Tongnyi Dhontok Rinpoch is a former Buddhist monk. He left the province of Gadê – where the Tongkyap monastery is located – in 1997. He now lives in Europe.
On March 10, the monks organised a celebration to commemorate the 54th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan revolt, as well as the fifth anniversary of the 2008 revolt. They left their monastery to go to a nearby sacred monument, brandishing their traditional yak-butter lamps. [Editor’s Note: Tibetan monks burn yak butter as a religious offering.] During this procession, they spoke about China’s ill treatment of Tibetans as well as about the self-immolations some monks have resorted to. Having lived in Gadê, I still have contacts there who told me that many local residents gathered to watch the monks’ ceremony. This no doubt angered the Chinese authorities."If the monks' re-education is anything like those others have undergone, they'll have to spend a month repeating that they hate the Dalai Lama"The authorities were already ill-disposed toward Tongkyap monastery because it has a history of rebelliousness: in 2007, one of its monks, Nyima Woeser, set off a protest movement and was imprisoned for six years. He was freed in early 2013 – after, he says, being tortured in prison – and returned to the monastery. Tongkyap monastery was also one of the first to join the 2008 revolt. And after all this, they chose to publish Titsun’s book [two days before the ceremony].These monks will no doubt undergo “re-education”. [Editor’s Note: The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy confirms this, and believe that the monks will also be asked to denounce those among them who worked to get the book published.] I don’t know exactly what this re-education will entail, but if it’s anything like those other monks have undergone in the past, they’ll no doubt spend a month repeating that they hate the Dalai Lama, that he is not their spiritual leader, and that they promise never to contact him. They will also likely be forced to repeat excerpts from the Chinese constitution, or declare that they will serve only China.They may also have their identity cards confiscated, since China gives out special ID cards for monks that serve as authorisation to study and live in monasteries. If this happens, and they wish to continue living as monks, they will have to do this illegally – and this would be at great risk to them.