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How Monks Get Shot


Reports from Tibet, which have reached the Tibet Information Network (TIN), provide further details on the shooting of a monk from a monastery in Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Southern Qinghai Province) by a police officer. Radio Free Asia (RFA) first reported the incident on 01 October 2004. The new information illustrates how an originally rather banal argument rapidly spiralled out of control once the police was involved. It reveals the inclination of the police authorities to handle public order through violence. It also points to tensions among local residents, in particular between Tibetan clergy and nomads on one hand and either Chinese (Han) or sinicised Tibetans on the other. Finally, the case illustrates the adherence of local Tibetans to nomadic traditions and the narrow space left for traditional conflict management strategies to operate within the People’s Republic of China state.

The incident, which happened in mid-September (the end of the seventh month of the local Amdo calender) involved monks from Trachog monastery in Golog Machen Dzong [Chin: Maqin] which belongs to the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and follows the Dzogchen* tradition.  It is home to about 200 monks, a number that rises to as many as 300 when monks from other institutions are visiting. The monastery is popularly known as Togden Monastery after Trulku Togden who was the head lama of the monastery (Tib: Gondag) for many years. Following Togden’s death, Trulku Drondul, who is now in his late 60s, became the head lama of the monastery. Trulku Drondrul is a married lama and does not live in the monastery but in a large house that he built nearby. The monk who was shot was his son, named Tsering Pal, and was allegedly held in great esteem by local people. His mother’s name is Gephel, and the family is said to be from a nomadic background.

This year, when the annual summer picnic after the end of the summer retreat [Tib: Yarne] was about to take place, three monks from Togden monastery, one of them Tsering Pal, went to Darlag Dzong to do some shopping. Although Togden monastery comes under the administration of Machen Dzong, the monks customarily go to the neighbouring Darlag Dzong [Chin: Dari] for shopping because it only takes one day on horseback from the monastery. As the son of the head lama, Tsering Pal appears to have been the group’s leader. The three monks stayed at a hotel in Darlag Shen from where they went shopping. They returned late in the evening to find the hotel closed and the staff refusing to open the doors for them. The monks started shouting, creating a disturbance and the hotel manager, which RFA reported as being Chinese, telephoned the police. Police officers arrived and arrested the monks. They were taken to the local police station [Chin: paitesuo] where they were detained for two days. In the first night of their detention, the monks were badly beaten.

Following their release, they visited a clinic to have their injuries treated before they returned to their monastery. On discovering what had happened, Drondul Trulku and two head teachers [Tib: Khenpo] from the monastery headed towards Darlag, taking with them the three monks who had been detained. In a meeting with the authorities, they demanded that, at the very least, the medical expenses of the monks be reimbursed. This was refused and an argument ensued during which an official called Xiao Fu, whose father is Chinese and his mother is Tibetan, took out his pistol and fired a single shot into the air. A monk grabbed the official’s hands and tried to take the pistol from him. In the ensuing scuffle, the pistol went off and Tsering Pal was shot dead. The bullet entered his eye and exited through the back of his head. The policeman then fired several more times, hitting a Chinese labourer and injuring his leg.  Another shot went through one of the two teachers’ hat (Khenpo Tsondue’s) but he was not injured. An unconfirmed report mentions that stray bullets also hit other bystanders.

As the news of the incident reached Trachog, an angry crowd of 100 to 200 people, including monks but mainly lay people, rode to Darlag Shen. People threw stones at the police station and police vehicles, but it appears that there were no further casualties. Two lamas, Amdo Geshe and Trulku Tenpe Nyima, members of the Darlag branch of the People’s Political Consultative Conference, [PPCC, a rubber-stamping institution with members recruited among local notorieties] managed to calm the crowd. During talks following the incident, the members of the public demanded that officer Xiao Fu hand over his two guns, according to the nomad custom whereby a person who kills someone is obliged to hand over his weapons. This was refused since the guns were government property and the public then threatened to cause major unrest. Finally, an agreement was passed through which the local police station paid 180,000 Yuan [UK£12,063; US$21,748; EUR€17,428] to the victim’s family as reparation [Tib: magdzog; a word used to indicate the withdrawal of an army against a sum of money]. Additionally, the two lamas and the local authorities agreed to a traditional moratorium [Tib: gyod thag]. According to this custom, the two parties agree to resolve a dispute within an agreed time. During this period no one is allowed to resume hostilities. Sometimes, in the case of major problems between villages for example, this can run into months or even more than a year.

The Tibet Information Network (TIN) is an independent news and research service that provides information and analysis of the current political, economic, social,environmental and human rights situation in Tibet. Web site: http://www.tibetinfo.net/

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