Woeser has been actively following and supporting the fate of Khenpo (Abbot) Karma Tsewang, also known as Khenpo Kartse, since his arrest in early December 2013. In this post, background information is given to Khenpo Karma Tsewang’s case as well as the efforts made by his supporters and lawyer for his release.
On January 23, 2014, Radio Free Asia reported that Khenpo Karma Tsewang was in a critical health condition and on March 11, 2014, they reported that his lawyer had been able to meet him.
The Kagyu school monastery in Nangchen county – Jhapa Monastery (above) – and its 39-years-old master, Karma Tsewang (below).
“The Cross-Provincial Arrest of Khenpo Karma Tsewang from Nangchen”
In Nangchen, Kham (today’s Nangchen County, Kyegudo Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province), Khenpo Karma Tsewang from Jhapa Monastery – the important monastery and birthplace of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism – went to Chengdu to handle some monastery matters and was arrested in the middle of the night on December 6, 2013 by the Chamdo Public Security Bureau and put into a Chamdo prison.
According to information from Nangchen County, Karma Tsewang’s arrest was related to the incidents that had taken place some time back in Karma Monastery. Nangchen County and Chamdo are close to each other, as are Jhapa Monastery and Karma Monastery, the birthplace of the Kagyu School of Buddhism. Both monasteries belong to the same tradition and are only separated by a mountain. Their relationship has always been very close. In 2011, Karma Monastery’s peacefulness was disrupted by a work group that was stationed inside it. All monks younger than 18 years old were expelled, forced to return to normal life; out of anger and the urge to resist, in the early morning of October 26, 2013, a few young monks threw some explosives into the County government building and posted leaflets opposing the work groups stationed in the monastery. This marked the beginning of a disastrous period for the Karma Monastery. Two senior abbots and one Buddhist teacher were accused of “sheltering 10 people suspected of firing explosives and committing arson” and were sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Over 100 monks were forced to leave the monastery, an unknown number of monks were arrested and interrogated under torture, forced to confess. A father and former monk of Karma Monastery self-immolated in grief and indignation. And a few monks fled the monastery, trying to hide from the long arms of state control. I heard that from the originally over 300 monks residing in Karma Monastery, only 6 senior monks were allowed to stay behind. The work group stationed inside already encompassed 8 people.
It is possible that those monks who fled caused the arrest of Khenpo Karma Tsewang. In a petition video for Karma Tsewang involving over 600 Tibetan laymen and monks we can see how the head of Nangchen County, together with the Deputy County Magistrate and other officials stopped the petition half way and unmistakably argued that “after the incident in Chamdo (Karma Monastery) in October 2011, many monks came over here and Karma Tsewang helped to hide them. You have to admit this fact… after Karma Tsewang was arrested, you monks and ordinary people kept on making a big fuss, but we don’t have the power to release him. You have to go to the provincial authorities to solve the matter…”
The County head also said: “I asked you many times not to cause trouble. It is of no use; firstly, it doesn’t help you, secondly, it doesn’t help Karma Tsewang, thirdly, it doesn’t help to solve this problem. If you cause a lot of trouble, then it will fall under the responsibility of the police to take care of the issue, then the Prefecture Security Bureau will send out their people and take you into custody. If this happens, there will be no hope, no one can do anything anymore.”
Further he said, “We already went to Chamdo… we went there because of this matter. It will have to be settled according to the law of the PRC. I went with Party Secretary Zhu because Karma Tsewang’s case directly affects whether us, the Nangchen County Party Secretary and County head, will be able to hold our positions. In Chamdo we raised the matter, we took action, but it will have to be done according to the law…”
Ok then, solve it according to the law. But on December 23, the lawyer Tang Tianhao who also acted on behalf of the Karma Monastery Khenpo Lodoe Rabsel who had been arrested, flew into the bitter cold and went to high altitude Chamdo to obtain the legal authorisation from Karma Tsewang’s family to act as his official defending lawyer. He then immediately requested to visit his client, which was refused by the Chamdo police. At first, the police did not even admit having arrested Karma Tsewang; later they informed that “1. This is a case involving the endangering of national security; 2. This case is handled by the Chamdo Public Security Bureau”, but no details were given as to where he was kept and what the accusations actually entailed.
After two days of not being able to meet any persons involved, lawyer Tang sent an official letter to the Chamdo Public Security Bureau, formulating four requests: “1. To transfer the suspect, Karma Tsewang, to the Chamdo detention house. 2. To send, in accordance with the law, the relevant judicial documents to the suspect’s family members. 3. As a defending lawyer who has handled other legal cases involving your bureau, I have noticed that severe third-degree tactics have been adopted, I sincerely hope that in this case, the responsible police officers will carry out interrogations according to the law, if any basic right infringements of the suspect occur, I will report those to the relevant authorities and will do everything in my power to charge and report those who are responsible for the infringements. 4. If this case involved the endangering of national security, I sincerely hope that your bureau allows me as the suspect’s defending lawyer to see my client. I wish to be informed of the exact criminal charge against Karma Tsewang.”
On December 28, the Security Bureau delivered a handwritten letter from Karma Tsewang to the monastery. The next day, the monastery made this letter public, it read: “Because of misfortune I am now imprisoned in Chamdo prison… I very much hope that no one will get into trouble because of me. I heard that recently there have been quarrels between local police, monks and ordinary people, such incidents must be avoided by all means. Please be far-sighted and open-minded and maintain a good relationship with the relevant departments, try to resolve the current situation and revive your religious lives of chanting sutras and practicing Buddhism.” The inscription read: “Karma Tsewang, December 27, 2013, Yushu, Chamdo detention house”.
The above facts not only prove that Karma Tsewang was put under cross-provincial arrest by the Chamdo Security Bureau, they also show that he is being kept in Chamdo. However, it is ironic and shameless that on December 26 and 27, when a journalist from the Associated Press (AP) telephoned the Nangchen County police and security bureau, they all claimed that they “weren’t sure, did not know and there was no such matter”.
Even more, of the 600 monks and laymen who petitioned for Karma, around 60 have already been arrested. Among them were important figures from within the monastery, such as the housekeeper and accountant. The prefecture head of Kyegudo Prefecture and the County head of Nangchen County together with other officials entered Jhapa Monastery to carry out “legal education”, which had one goal, namely to warn monks that lawyers will not be tolerated. If anyone dares to employ a lawyer, whether family members or monastery members, they will be arrested.
December 2013 – January 2014
This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)