BEIJING (AP) — Tibetans are increasingly concerned about the fate of three senior Buddhist monks who were imprisoned following a 2008 crackdown on anti-government riots in Tibet, an overseas rights monitoring group said Wednesday.
The three were senior religious teachers at Drepung monastery in Lhasa, whose monks were at the forefront of the March 2008 protests that started out as peaceful marches before exploding into violence days later.
The U.S.-based International Campaign for Tibet said in a news release that their whereabouts remain unknown and there is growing concern among Tibetans about their welfare.
The three were listed as: Jampel Wangchuk, 55, the disciplinarian at Drepung’s Loseling college, who is believed to have been given a life term; Konchok Nyima, 43, the scripture teacher at Drepung’s Gomang college, sentenced to 20 years; and Ngawang Choenyi, 38, scripture teacher at Drepung’s Ngakpa college, sentenced to 15 years.
The International Campaign for Tibet said the three were not believed to have taken part in the demonstrations and it was not known what crimes they had been charged with.
China frequently uses vaguely defined laws against separatism and subversion to imprison political and religious dissidents. However, the lack of a clear political connection in the three cases has raised concern that authorities are using the 2008 protests as a pretext to attack Tibetan Buddhism, the International Campaign for Tibet said.
Calls to Drepung monastery and the Lhasa police spokesman rang unanswered Wednesday. Nyima, an office director at Lhasa’s bureau of ethnic and religious affairs, who like many Tibetans uses only one name, said he had no news on the three. He recorded their names and details and promised to relay any information on them.
The 2008 protests, which later spread to other Tibetan inhabited regions in western China, marked the largest uprising against Chinese rule in decades. The government says at least 22 people died in Lhasa violence. Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans were killed.
Authorities responded with a massive security clampdown, sending hundreds of armed police into Drepung and other monasteries and detaining an unknown number of monks and lay people. Tibet was closed to all foreign visitors for months and security remains extremely tight. Foreign journalists are required to apply for special permission to travel there and access is usually provided only through rarely scheduled government organized trips.
Beijing blamed the 2008 violence on outside agitators linked to exiled Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama, who denied any involvement. Many Tibetans remain loyal to the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and resent heavy-handed Chinese rule, including stringent controls over Buddhist monasteries and restrictions on religious practices.
China says Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries and sent troops to occupy the region following the 1949 communist seizure of power. Historians say Tibet was functionally independent for most of that time under the rule of a succession of Dalai Lamas.