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China’s Guantanamo bay for Buddhist monks of Kirti

by B. Raman, Sri Lanka Guardian, June 13, 2011

"They are not Al Qaeda suspects. They are not terrorist suspects. They are not ordinary criminals who have committed murder, rape or any other common law crime. They are just monks."

Chennai, India -- All right-thinking persons of the world have spoken for a decade against the military detention centre set up by the US in the Guantanamo Bay. They have spoken out  against the unilateral detention and interrogation all Al Qaeda suspects arrested from different parts of the world by US authorities. There have been many views on the legitimacy of this centre. There have been many criticisms of its inhumanity.

Yet no one speaks of the new Guantanamo Bay type military detention centre which has reportedly been set up by the Chinese authorities under the supervision of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This centre was established and used to purportedly interrogate and subject to so-called "legal education" for an estimated number of 300 Buddhist monks - young and old.

These are not Al Qaeda suspects. They are not terrorists. They are not ordinary criminals who have committed murder, rape or any other common law crime. They are merely religious people who have remained steadfast in their adherence to the Buddhist religion and in their support and loyalty to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Their only crime was to fast and refuse food as show of their solidarity with a 16-year-old monk who committed self-immolation on March 16, who died in protest against the Chinese colonisation of Tibet. This monk, like all of them, belonged to the famous Kirti monastery in Aba County, located within the Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province.

Since then, the Chinese authorities of the Ministry of Public Security have started a demonization campaign against these 300 monks from that monastery. They have been accused of various petty crimes such as visiting prostitutes or inviting prostitutes into the monastery.

Initially, the Chinese authorities had them confined within the monastery, reduced their daily rations and forced them to attend the so-called "re-education classes". When the authorities could not break the protest movement of the monks, they reportedly shifted them to a special military detention centre that they have set up in Sichuan province.

Whwn the monks were detained under home arrest in the monastery, the world was getting some news of their situation. However, since their move to the military detention centre the flow of information has been halted.

International human rights activists have been treating these monks as missing persons and are seeking the Chinese to provide more information about them. They are demanding that human rights activists should be allowed to visit the detention centre and meet the monks. The Chinese have so far refused to allow any humanitarian visit as provided for under international humanitarian laws.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei claimed on June 8 that there had been no "enforced disappearances" at the Kirti monastery. He said the local authorities had taken some monks for "legal education".

On the same day, UN officials asked China for details of the whereabouts of the monks. "We encourage the authorities to undertake full investigations into the ongoing practice of enforced disappearances," said a statement from the UN's working group on enforced disappearances.

But in his weekly news conference, Mr Hong told journalists that no such thing was happening in the monastery. “The relevant local authorities are conducting legal education for the Kirti monastery monks in order to maintain religious order there. There was no question of forced disappearances," he said. Mr Hong added that "relevant organisations" should "abandon bias and be objective and fair".

Meanwhile, there are indications that the protest movement by the monks has spread to the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) region, including Kardze town. No details are available.

The Chinese authorities have imposed such an effective control on the use of the Internet by the Tibetans that much information is not coming out through micro-blogging. While the rest of the world is benefiting from the relaxation of restrictions and the greater transparency as a result of the Jasmine Revolution sweeping across West Asia and Africa, the Chinese have denied these benefits to the Tibetans and their monks. They have sought to crush the Tibetan jasmine even before it can bloom.

It is time for the world to raise its voice and demand more information on the Chinese military detention centre and its Buddhist inmates.

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The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com



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