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Harsh Punishment for Environmental Protest

[Source: TIN News Update / 15 December 1998 / total no. of pages: 2 ISSN: 1355-3313; WTN-L: World Tibet Network News. Published by: The Canada Tibet Committee]

December 15, 1998

Further details have emerged from Tibet recently of an environmental protest which prompted a particularly harsh response from the Chinese authorities. The protest and subsequent arrest and imprisonment in 1996 of a Tibetan lama from a monastery in Sichuan province, indicates the increasing oncern among Tibetans about Chinese policies which contribute to the degradation of the environment. Kabukye Rinpoche, head of Nubzur monastery in Serta county in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was arrested on 10 June 1996 and sentenced to six years imprisonment after expressing his opposition to local government policies linked to gold mining near his monastery.

According to an unofficial source Kabukye Rinpoche appears to have been accused by the authorities of being responsible for putting up the pro-independence posters that appeared in Serta nearly a year earlier,  during the 40th anniversary of the founding of Serta county on 24 July 1995. The day after his arrest Chinese security personnel reportedly visited the monastery and broke into his room, confiscating posters and a camera. According to TIN's source, Kabukye Rinpoche denied any involvement with the pro-independence movement and said that he had had no contact with people from abroad. What he had done, he said, was write a letter to the authorities protesting against mining activities near Nubzur monastery and what he considered to be excessive Chinese immigration to the area.

Opposition by local Tibetans and the Nubzur monks to the way in which Serta's mineral resources were being exploited was prompted by the development of a gold mine on a mountainside behind Nubzur monastery.  According to TIN's sources, the gold mine has attracted over 300 Chinese miners since 1992, adding to the already considerable Chinese presence in the Tibetan autonomous county. Despite assurances by the Sichuan provincial mining department that the local economy would benefit from the development of the gold mine local people feel that neither the monastery nor the local Tibetans have in fact benefited.

TIN's source reported that two days after Kabukye Rinpoche's arrest Chinese security personnel returned to Nubzur monastery and arrested Pantsa, the caretaker of the monastery, and both he and Kabukye Rinpoche were reportedly subjected to torture during their interrogation. The source reported that they were both held in a small cell without windows or light and that they were given very poor food and were repeatedly beaten up and denied sleep at night. The report adds that Kabukye Rinpoche was subject to particularly harsh treatment, being forced to strip naked and stand by a burning fire, on one occasion losing consciousness and falling into the fire causing severe burns to his left arm. In addition he was forced to kneel down for hours on end, damaging his knees so badly that he could not stand up properly, according to the source.

Kabukye Rinpoche, who is sometimes referred to as Nazod Rinpoche, reportedly said during his detention that he wrote to the authorities in Serta to protest about the influx of Chinese into the area and the exploitation of natural resources, in particular the gold mine behind the monastery. He is reported to have raised concerns that the explosions used to loosen rock on the hillside were causing problems for the nomads herding their livestock and that the mining was leading to the erosion of the grasslands.

In addition to these practical concerns Tibetans in the area are said to have linked the unexpected death in February 1996 of the Abbot of Nubzur monastery and another senior lama with the mining. There is no evidence to suggest that the mining activities were related in any way to the deaths, but the Tibetans believe that the hillside where the gold mine is situated is a holy mountain and the dwelling place of many protective earth spirits. It was following the deaths that 35-year old Kabukye Rinpoche assumed responsibility as head of Nubzur monastery, which follows the Nyingma-pa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and became secretary of its Democratic Management Committee.

According to TIN's source Kabukye Rinpoche maintained throughout his interrogation that he was solely responsible for his actions and that Pantsa was innocent of any crime; Pantsa was released without charge by the Public Security Bureau on 13 July 1996, a month after he was first detained. Kabukye Rinpoche remained in detention until he was formally charged and sentenced on 27 October 1996 to six years imprisonment with a fine of 8000 RMB [US$964] for the crime of "counter-revolutionary splittism". The source says that neither his family and friends nor his monastery were informed of the court hearing where his sentence was passed.

An unofficial report received by TIN in 1997 says that Kabukye Rinpoche was to be transferred to a prison in Maowun county in Ngaba (Chinese:  Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous prefecture to serve his sentence, but the place of his current detention has not been confirmed. The prison referred to in Maowun is likely to be the prefecture level prison facility that is situated in a valley southeast of Maowun town, which is known in Chinese as Maoxian. Unofficial reports state that the Rinpoche has been suffering from heart problems since his arrest and there are fears that these will be exacerbated by poor conditions in prison.

Kabukye Rinpoche, who joined Nubzur monastery in 1980 and was formally recognised as a reincarnated lama in October 1990, is highly respected as a scholar and spiritual leader among the Nubzur monks and the local community and his arrest has reportedly caused widespread anger among Tibetans. According to TIN's source Kabukye Rinpoche sent a message to the people of Serta saying that all he had done was put on paper some of his thoughts and he urged them to remain calm.

Following the arrest and sentencing of Kabukye Rinpoche the Chinese authorities have reportedly tightened restrictions on the community in Serta, banning the display of photographs of the Dalai Lama and listening to Tibetan language broadcasts of Voice of America. Reports say that the monastery, which is situated approximately 27 kilometres southeast of the county seat, was sealed off while investigations into Kabukye Rinpoche's case were completed. Shortly after Kabukye Rinpoche's arrest a Work Committee moved into the monastery to conduct patriotic education, a campaign which has been extended this year from the Tibet Autonomous Region to all Tibetan areas and therefore not necessarily linked to Kabukye Rinpoche's arrest.

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