Two Tibetan monks arrested by authorities in western China’s Sichuan province are incommunicado five months after being taken into custody, with family members increasingly worried about their well-being, RFA has learned.
Tenzin Norbu and Wangchen Nyima, who are brothers, were arrested on Aug. 15, 2021, and are being held in a prison in Tawu (in Chinese, Daofu) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a Tibetan living in exile in New York said.
“It has been five months since their arrests, but the reasons for their arrests and their current situation are still unknown,” RFA’s source said, citing contacts in the region and speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
The two monks are nephews of Tulku Choekyi Nyima, abbot of Nenang Monastery in Sichuan’s Drago (Luhuo) county, where Chinese authorities at another monastery recently demolished two large statues revered by Tibetan Buddhists. Tibetans who objected to the demolition were arrested and beaten.
“The situation in Drago county is very sensitive at the moment,” RFA’s source said, adding that sources in the region had at first held back from reporting the two monks’ arrest for fear of exposing them to further trouble from authorities.
“But the family members of the two arrested monks are still not allowed to meet with them and have received no information about their well-being at all,” he said.
Wangchen Nyima, a well-known advocate for Tibetans’ education and health, had been arrested once before, a second source in exile told RFA in a written message. “This was in 2015, when the Chinese government forcibly shut down schools in his monastery. His brother Orgyan Choedrak was also arrested then,” he said.
“On Aug. 18, three days after their arrest, the assembly hall of their monastery caught fire, and Khenpo Thubten — a graduate of Sichuan’s Larung Gar Buddhist Academy — died in the blaze. A monk named Bukyo was also burned in the fire and died on his way to the hospital next day,” he said.
Local Tibetans believe that the fire at Nenang, which lies on the road connecting Tawu and Drago, was started by Chinese authorities, he said.
Monks’ quarters destroyed
Following the demolition of the statues in Drago — one a 99-foot-tall statue of the Buddha and the other a three-story statue of Maitreya, the Buddha of a future age — Chinese authorities have begun to destroy monks’ quarters at the county’s Gaden Namgyal Ling monastery, RFA’s source in New York said.
“The authorities are saying that these dwellings were removed to make way for roads allowing firefighting vehicles to pass easily in case of emergencies,” the source said. “One phase of the demolition is already under way, with the other phase set to begin soon.”
The orders for destruction have already targeted places and objects of “serious religious significance” to Tibetans, the source said.
A large Chinese military compound built in 2012 in Nyikhok, around 4 kilometers away from the large Buddha statue destroyed in Drago, is meanwhile being used as a labor camp for Tibetans, RFA’s source said.
“Around 12 Tibetans are being held there at the moment, including Khenpo Pagha, a monk named Nyima, and a few Tibetan women,” he said.
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