Lobsang Samphel, 25, was born in Tsoduk nomadic village in Ngaba (Ch: Aba) County in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, in Amdo province. He became a monk at 13 and joined Gomang Monastery, which had over 900 monks prior to 2008. Lobsang Samphel saw first-hand the deaths of unarmed Tibetan protesters from police firing at a protest in Ngaba County town. He reached in exile in India in November 2012. He shares his story with TCHRD:
“After the widespread protests in 2008 in Tibet, the Chinese authorities appointed 25 permanent staff at Gomang Monastery, to carry out ‘patriotic education’ and oversee the entire teachings and administration at the monastery. Restrictions on day-to-day affairs have since increased at the monastery, posing great obstacles to the monks. Beginning 29 March 2008, the Chinese authorities launched an intensified three-month ‘patriotic education’ campaign at Gomang Monastery. The objectives of the campaign were to oppose and condemn ‘splittist cliques’ and ‘Dalai clique.’ Monks undergoing political education classes had to sit for exams every ten days, finding the correct answer for sensitive political questions such as ‘Is the Dalai clique responsible for ‘splitting’ the Chinese Motherland or not?’ Such derogatory remarks and baseless allegations against our root spiritual teacher filled our hearts with anguish and we felt as if our hearts have been wounded.
“Afterwards, the Chinese cadres felt that the political education campaign at Gomang was not achieving desired results. They summoned the head officials and chief instructors of the monastery for a meeting. Finally, the monastery heads were pressured into organizing another two-month intensive political education campaign. The frequency of ‘patriotic education’ campaigns depends on the events in the exile Tibetan community. For instance, whenever the exile Tibetans hold rallies or demonstrations, hold important meetings, or the exile Sikyong Lobsang Sangay attends public functions, the Chinese cadres and workers would hold political education sessions.
“I have also heard about local Tibetans in Ngaba talking about Tapey, the 21-yr-old monk from Kirti Monastery, who selfimmolated on 27 February 2009, that he was often tortured in Chinese custody. Whenever a self-immolation protest occurred, the police would pull Tapey’s sore skin and blame him for being the first Tibetan to initiate such protests, which although the Chinese government would not admit publicly, was getting out of its control. Two monks from Kirti Monastery who self-immolated on 26 September 2011, have not been heard or seen since they were taken to an undisclosed location by the Chinese security forces. The whereabouts of the monks’ parents also remain unknown to this day. The parents were called by the Chinese authorities to look after their sons but they remain ‘missing’ since leaving for the undisclosed location.
“On 16 June 2008, at around 12 pm, about 20 police officers and government officials came to our monastery and attempted to mount a Chinese flag on the top of the monastery building. The monks rose in protest against the action, and broke the lock of the newly constructed police station in the monastery compound, and stopped the flag from being hoisted. By the time the flag was taken down, the police officers and government officials had left the monastery. Soon, some monks received a call about a huge demonstration at the County town, which was led by about 800 County Middle School students, Kirti Monastery monks and lay Tibetans. Immediately, I joined over 500 Gomang monks and marched on foot to join the protest at County town which was about 13-km away. When we reached there, the demonstration had already begun but shortly thereafter, Chinese security forces violently suppressed the protest provoking some protesters to set the County police station and the County court on fire.
“I saw the Chinese security forces shooting dead a 21-yr-old Tibetan woman, Lhundup Tso, who at the time was hanging khataks on the entrance of Tibetan restaurants and shops so that these businesses would not be destroyed in the protest. Then I saw two Tibetan youths shot dead at the protest site. In the evening, senior monks and elderly Tibetans from surrounding villages strongly appealed to stop the protest for fear of security crackdown and loss of lives. The protestors finally went back to their respective homes.
“On 21 June 2008, a large number of security forces sent by provincial and prefectural authorities came and surrounded our monastery. They detained 18 monks who were taken to the County government office. The rest of the monks were put under house arrest at the monastery. To date, the whereabouts of these 18 monks remain unknown. Furthermore, the County government office in a notice sent to the monastery, warned that the monastery would be destroyed and its classes cancelled if the monks who participated in the protest did not turn themselves in. Following the official intimidation and warning, monks from Gomang surrendered themselves merely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly. Among them, two monks – Choekyong, 31,
from Nashul Village (Ngaba County) and Dratse, 30, Adhue Village (Ngaba County) took the responsibility for dismounting and burning the Chinese flag, and breaking the lock of the police station in the monastery compound. Both monks were
sentenced to three years in prison. They have been released after serving their sentence, however, the monks face immense hardship in leading a normal life. They have no freedom to leave their monastery without official permission. Gomang Monastery continues to be under heavy security lockdown, with movements and activities of the monks systematically and intrusively controlled by the Chinese authorities.
“Since July 2010, four officials from the State Security Bureau have been living permanently in Gomang Monastery. Since their arrival, monks who come under official suspicion are being detained for two to three months or for a few days of interrogation.
After the crackdown in 2008, the population of Gomang Monastery has been reduced to 370 from over 900. A new identity card has been introduced specially for monks. Without official registration and the new ID card, monks are not monks for the Chinese government. This would create many problems for the scores of unregistered monks in Tibet.
“In September 2012, I was in Lhasa, on my way to India. The atmosphere was tense and heavily monitored. Life has become very difficult for local residents as well as those from the Tibetan provinces of Kham and Amdo, located outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. Kham and Amdo Tibetans need different documents issued by their respective Township and County PSB and government offices to travel to Lhasa. At the Lhasa railway station, Tibetans without required official papers were arrested and detained at the PSB office in the railway station. I was detained for two days at the PSB office on my arrival at Lhasa railway station. Fortunately, I contacted my family and managed to secure a paper but I was ordered to leave for home within ten days. I did not go back, instead took the road through Shigatse and Dram reaching Indian through Nepal on 26 November 2012.”