Two monks flee Tibet’s Nagchu to escape persecution as ‘social prisoner’

Chinese authorities in Nagchu (Ch: Naqu) Prefecture in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) are persecuting monks and nuns who travel to other Tibetan areas outside of TAR to pursue religious studies, calling them ‘social prisoners’.

Two Tibetan monks, Bhagdro and Deri, who fled Tibet to India early this month told TCHRD that monks and nuns who earn the label ‘social prisoners’ (Tib: chitsok ki tsonpa) are being detained, harassed and interrogated by local Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers. The so-called ‘social prisoners’ are being persecuted for crossing the TAR border and travelling to other Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces to pursue religious education.

Bhagdro, 23, and Deri, 21, hail from Lhari (Ch: Jiali) County and Sog (Ch: Suo) County respectively in Nagchu Prefecture. Both monks had left their respective home monasteries to pursue further studies at Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in Sertha (Ch: Seda) County in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Sichuan Province). Fearing that they would be stigmatised as ‘social prisoners’, they chose not to return home and fled into exile to India. 

This year, Bhagdro’s two sisters and four other nuns, who had studied at Larung Gar, were detained for about 10 days by PSB officers in Amdo (Anduo) County in Nagchu Prefecture. They were detained upon their return to Nagchu from Sertha County. The nuns are now required to report themselves to the local PSB office every fortnight. The PSB officers threatened the nuns that if they dared to leave their domicile again, their ‘crime’ would be treated the same as illegally travelling to India, in which case family members would also be punished.

Speaking to TCHRD, Bhagdro said, “The PSB officers rebuked my sisters, telling them they are ‘social prisoners’ and hence cannot join any nunneries or travel anywhere they wish to.”

According to Bhagdro’s testimony to TCHRD, there are no qualified religious teachers in Lhari County driving many monks and nuns to travel to other Tibetan areas outside TAR to pursue higher religious studies.  Moreover, this year authorities announced that monasteries and nunneries in Lhari County are not allowed to accept more than 17 new admissions each year. There are about a dozen small and big monasteries and nunneries in Lhari County.

In 2012, TAR authorities began stationing permanent cadres in all villages in Lhari County. Bhagdro said during political education campaigns, the cadres order Tibetans not to display photos of the Dalai Lama in their homes, and not to listen to or tell rumours. Instead Tibetans are ordered to listen to everything that the government said and to fly Chinese flags on their rooftops.

Bhagdro related other accounts in Lhari County wherein local authorities had detained a Tibetan man in Drongul (Ch: Zhongyi) Township for protesting the government’s plan to relocate local Tibetans to make way for a new dam. “This year, TAR and County officials visited Drongul Township and announced that villagers have to relocate so the government could built a dam there,” Bhagdro said. “Officials also announced that they would provide compensation money but villagers refused to accept the proposal and one man was arrested for openly protesting against the relocation plan.”

In Tsangrok (Ch: Zhangruo) Township, relentless mining have destroyed the grassland, severely affecting normal weather patterns and causing the death of cattle, with the surviving animals unable to produce enough milk.

Deri’s testimony provides important revelation on the implementation of the so-called ‘Nine Must Haves campaign. In Sog County, the Chinese government distributed Chinese flags free of cost to all Tibetan families who are forced to hoist the flags on their rooftops. Families who refused to do so had their electricity connection cut off. When that failed, the authorities announced that refusal to fly the flags would be considered a ‘political error’ liable to be punished with imprisonment.

According to Deri, families are required to replace the old flags with new ones every one or two months. Once a year, each family in Sog County has to send one family member to attend a meeting at County government office. “Majority of the topics during these meetings concern opposing the Dalai Lama,” he said.

Deri remembers a motorbike trip to County town with a friend during which they were stopped and frisked at a police check post. At the time, Deri was wearing a small pendant with a picture of the Dalai Lama around his neck.  The officers immediately pulled it off his neck and threw it away. Deri was beaten up and detained for two days for possessing the picture of the Dalai Lama.

Both monks confirmed that repression has increased in the past two years in Nagchu Prefecture where new military camps have been built in addition to the number of security forces and cadres stationed in the counties and villages in Nagchu area.


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