Image: a snapshot I took in 2006 of ethnic Tibetan nuns praying in a temple in Lhasa, Tibet. This small temple is very close to the site of large protests taking place this week. Some of the women in this temple told me that fellow nuns had been jailed, tortured, or "disappeared" for expressing spiritual allegiance to the Dalai Lama, and to the notion of Tibetan sovereignty.
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The Chinese government this week dispatched military troops and police to important monasteries in Tibet to crack down on the largest protests by ethnic Tibetan Buddhist monks in the Himalayan region in 20 years. Witnesses are reporting that trucks full of troops have surrounded Drepung monastery in Lhasa, as police surround nearby Sera monastery. Snip from the Independent:
These two sites have strong symbolic significance, as they were the training grounds for the monks who led Tibet before the People's Liberation Army came in 1950 and ousted the Dalai Lama.
Protests began on Monday as monks marked the 49th anniversary of the failed uprising against Chinese rule that culminated in the Dalai Lama's exile. The protests are the biggest since the late 1980s, when riots led to martial law. Back then, China's current President, Hu Jintao, was the Communist Party chief in Tibet.
Signs of defiance in Tibet come just five months before the Olympic Games in Beijing, when the eyes of the world will be on China. Tibetan activists are expected to use the extra attention to highlight their cause.
Among the many reports today, this sad and symbolic story: two of the protesting monks from Drepung are in critical condition after stabbing their wrists and chests as a form of protest.
The two monks were identified as Kalsang and Damchoe, both originally from Kirti monastery in Sichuan province and now resident at Drepung monastery. Sources said the men had stabbed themselves in the chest, hands, and wrists. Both refused to be moved to hospital but were taken instead to the monastery clinic, the sources said.
"There are many other monks who hurt themselves in desperation, and protests are going on inside the monastery as of March 12 and 13," one source said. Another source described the two monks' condition as critical and said they were not expected to survive.
The pro-Tibet-independence advocacy group Students for a Free Tibet has a news coverage roundup of the protest inside Tibet, and a roundup of related video reports, including the clip above, which shows exiled Tibetan monks and nuns in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh protesting, and vowing to return by foot over the Himalayas to Tibet.
Previously on BB: