Chinese Authorities Arrest Over 1,000 Tibetans After Protests Over Dam Project

February 22nd and 23rd Mass Arrests

On February 23rd, Chinese authorities arrested over one thousand Tibetan civilians and monks connected to protests over the Gangtuo/Kamtok hydroelectric dam project in Sichuan province located in southwestern China. Chinese law enforcement arrested several hundred monks, nuns, and villagers throughout Gege County, Kardze Tibetan Prefecture, after weeklong protests that started on February 14th. The arrested individuals are reportedly being held at various locations throughout the county due to local authorities lacking a facility large enough to hold them.

The officers also forced the arrested people to bring their own bedding and tsampa, indicating that they would be held for a long time. Several relatives of the detained individuals went to the Dege Detention Center and asked for their relatives’ release, and were also reportedly arrested. Local authorities also cut off Internet and phone services to the county and began to seize cell phones to prevent information about the crackdown from reaching outside China.

The mass arrests occurred a day after Chinese authorities deployed specially trained police officers to arrest approximately 100 Tibetan monks and individuals connected to the protests. The arrests occurred at Wonto/Wangbuding and Yena/Yinnan monasteries and surrounding villages, according to various social media posts. Chinese officers reportedly used pepper spray and batons during the mass arrests, which resulted in some individuals going to Dege County Hospital to receive medical attention.

Chinese police arresting Tibetan monks gathered outside Wonto Monastery on February 22nd

February 14th Protests

The protests began on February 14th, when several monks and private citizens followed Chinese officials visiting Upper Wonto/Wangbuding village, begging them to stop the dam project.

Tibetan monks begging Chinese officials to stop dam project during tour in Wangbuding village, Dege County (Photo: X, formally known as Twitter/@Tibetankyi)

Several dozen protesters also demonstrated in front of the Dege County government building in the town of Derge, calling on Chinese authorities to halt the project. The protesters shouted slogans such as “Halt the dam project!” as county officials said they had no say in the project. Several individuals also reportedly clashed with police as they attempted to block the entrance to town hall, and some individuals were arrested.

Tibetans gathered outside the Dege County’s Town Hall to protest Gangtuo/Kamtok hydroelectric dam project (Photo: X, formally called Twitter/@Abdu_Uyghurs)

The monks, nuns, and other people continued to protest the project for approximately a week at towns, monasteries, and other locations throughout Dege County. Several monks, nuns, and people also gathered to cry and voice their disapproval over their forced relocation due to the dam project.

Tibetan monks and civilians crying due to forced relocation due to the Gangtuo/Kamtok dam project (Photo: X, formally known as Twitter/@logyal143)

Analysis

The protests and arrests are due to the forced relocations due to the Gangtuo/Kamtok dam project along the Drichu/Jinsha River, which is located in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. The dam will result in the flooding of Upper Wonto and Shipa villages and six monasteries, Khardho, Wonto, and Yena monasteries located in Dege County, and Gonsar, Rabten, and Tashi monasteries in Tibet. Chinese officials will force the residents and monks from their homes and monasteries to relocate once the dam is operational in 2026.

However, the people in the area are angry because the government did not ask for their approval or input regarding the dam. Furthermore, residents are also angry because the flooding will result in the destruction of the six monasteries, which are home to historic Tibetan Buddhist artwork and murals. The local government did not provide any information regarding whether they would attempt to relocate or save them from the pending flooding when previously questioned by monks and local residents.

The reason why the Chinese government chose the specific site to build the dam is to further erode Tibetan religious and cultural identities by destroying the monasteries. Specifically, Chinese authorities want to destroy the monasteries due to their connection to the Kham region and the various Tibetan kingdoms that existed in the area. Kham is one of the three traditional regions of Tibet that has its own unique culture, history, and people. Destroying the monasteries will play a key role in the Chinese government’s effort to totally sever the local people’s connections to the region’s history and culture. The ultimate aim is to culturally assimilate the Tibetan people in the region into Han Chinese culture while destroying the native Tibetan culture in the region.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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