A Tibetan source in exile has told Tibet Watch that last month, Chinese authorities forced Tibetan monks to sign a letter of confession claiming that it was them who destroyed the giant Buddha statue in December last year in Drago County, eastern Tibet.
This intimidation is thought to be an attempt to divert international pressure away from the Chinese government. The actions of authorities in Drago had been raised in the UK Parliament in February and was widely criticised by campaign groups outside Tibet. According to the source, local Tibetans have been further ordered to clean up the remains of the statue’s destruction.
The same source detailed further demolitions of eleven Tibetan restaurants and shops that were carried out on either 2 or 3 April. Chinese authorities justified this by citing that the owners did not have “valid papers” and the construction of the buildings were “too high”. The owners were then threatened with heavy fines of three to four million Yuan (roughly 360,000 – 480,000 GBP) if they did not follow the demolition order and had not been compensated for the loss they incurred.
Details on the current situation of the Tibetan monks and owners of the demolished buildings remain unknown. A group of Tibetans who were previously detained in a so-called “re-education centre” following a series of demolitions have now been released but have been placed under strict surveillance.
New details on Security facilities
New information on the local security facilities in Drago County has also come to light. Drago is surrounded by three security facilities, shown in the photo above. One of these is an army base near the Shingchu River in the northern outskirts of Drago that was previously a Forestry Nursery Bureau. The second facility is an extralegal detention centre known as a “re-education centre” that lies in the northeastern suburbs of Tropa. This is where groups of detainees were taken by Chinese authorities and beaten. The third security facility is a prison in the southern area of Chigrey which appears to have been constructed to replace the county prison located in the centre of Drago.
Satellite imagery analysis of Drago County shows that between May 2011 to March 2015, a new high-walled security facility has been constructed in Chigrey, an area on the outskirts of the county in the south. Sources in exile identify it as a prison that was constructed in 2013.
The construction of the new prison and the “re-education” centre was carried out within the same time period and was followed by the demolition of the prison located in the county centre. It was only after the end of this construction period that the county prison in the centre of Drago County was demolished; it was last seen on Google Earth in March 2015, and on Baidu Maps in 2016. A satellite image of the area taken in September 2019 shows that there was no longer any building at the site of the county centre prison.
These constructions and demolitions appear to be decisions taken to maintain the tight security of Drago County and its people. Anecdotal accounts reveal that so many local Tibetans were arrested in connection to the 2012 mass protests in Drago that there was not enough capacity in the county centre prison. As a result, primary schools in Drago County were used as temporary jails to interrogate and torture the protesters arrested.
Information supplied by Tibet Watch