AFP: Smuggled film shows demolition of Tibetan Buddhist institute in China

NEW DELHI, April 18 (AFP) - A Tibetan rights group Thursday unveiled smuggled video footage of the forced eviction of thousands of nuns and monks and the destruction of their homes in one of the most important centres of Tibetan Buddhism in southwest China. The 10-minute documentary, shown for the first time to reporters in New Delhi, was put together from assorted video clips brought out of China by monks of the Serthar Institute who fled by foot across the Himalayas into Nepal. The footage showed Chinese "work teams" backed by paramilitary police personnel, using sledgehammers, picks and iron bars to systematically raze dwellings belonging to the nuns and monks studying at the institute in Ganzi prefecture of Sichuan province.

At the time the evictions and demolition began in June last year, the institute was home to nearly 9,000 people, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said. The crackdown at Serthar came in the wake of a 1999 order by the Chinese authorities to cap the number of followers at the institute at 1,400. One of the monks interviewed in the documentary said 50 trucks and jeeps "full of Chinese" had arrived at the institute on June 26. "Right away, they started to destroy thousands of houses of our monks and nuns. They used all their power to crack down on us," he said.

The Serthar monastic complex, founded in 1980 to revive Buddhist scholarship and meditation, housed the largest concentration of monks and nuns in China. In addition to the Tibetans, it also had nearly 1,000 Chinese students from the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The institute was celebrated for its charismatic senior religious instructor, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, who has given Buddhist teachings across China and overseas.

The TCHRD said Phuntsok and his niece had been taken into police custody when the evictions began, and continued to be held incommunicado in the Sichuan provincial capital Chengdu. While the official Chinese justification for the demolition was overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, TCHRD researcher Norzin Dolma said internal documents showed the institute was suspected of supporting Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and harbouring "anti-Chinese elements".

Tenkyong, one of the monks who smuggled the Serthar footage out, said many nuns and monks had been forced to sign statements denouncing the Dalai Lama. "As far as we know, the destruction at Sethar is still going on," said Tenkyong, who arrived in Nepal in October. The video footage showed nuns sifting through the wreckage of their homes and gathering personal belongings prior to their forced eviction. "I am so sad and depressed," said one of the nuns. "I renounced my family to join Serthar and spend my life in religious studies. So when I was expelled, I felt like a fish flung out of water and left to die."

TCHRD said it had documented the eviction of almost 19,000 monks and nuns from religious institutions in Tibet in the past seven years. "The documentary completely contradicts China's claim to respect religious freedom in Tibet," said the centre's senor programme officer Youdon Aukatsang. "China may have escaped condemnation of their human rights record at the Human Rights Commission this year, but with evidence such as this, the world can no longer turn a blind eye."


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