UPDATE: 5 October 2016 - Free Tibet has learned that, under pressure from China, the authorities at Larung Gar have asked 2,000 nuns to leave the site voluntarily. Nuns who did not agree to leave were at risk of being forcibly removed. The deadline for the 2,000 departures was 28 September. It is unclear at this stage whether those departures have taken place.
New photos acquired by Free Tibet show the scale of the damage done to Larung Gar Buddhist Academy by Chinese demolition teams and the effect of forced removals on residents.
Free Tibet has also received a video showing the final moments spent at the site by a group of evicted residents before they are made to begin the journey back home. The video, which was shot on 29 September, shows monks and nuns who have been forced to leave Larung Gar departing by bus.
70 nuns and 40 monks were made to depart on 29 September, all of them originally from the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), hundreds of miles away. In the video they can be seen bidding farewell to their friends and classmates, who look on sadly from outside.
No guidelines have been issued by authorities as to whether those departing can join monasteries and nunneries in the TAR upon returning. The number of residents in monasteries and nunneries in the TAR is tightly regulated, while restrictions on the movement of monks and nuns make it difficult for them to travel from one area to another.
Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, which is located in Sertar County, Kardze, eastern Tibet, is currently undergoing a wave of demolitions and forced removals of residents as part of a plan issued by local authorities earlier this year. The plan aims to cut the number of people at Larung Gar down to 5,000 monks and nuns. The current population is at least 10,000.
The latest round of removals and demolitions are scheduled to be completed by the end of October. According to local sources, all but 100 residents of Larung Gar who were originally from Lhasa have been removed and sent home. Monks and nuns originally from the Chinese provinces of Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan have all been ordered to leave. Once the residents have been removed their residences will be demolished. So far at least 2,000 residences have been destroyed.
A second video, widely-shared on social media, shows further scenes of the departures. As the camera pans around the crowd of monks and nuns, many of them visibly upset about the departures, several large vehicles used in the demolitions can be seen.
The damage to Larung Gar has caused widespread distress, both among residents and across Tibet. Three Tibetan nuns have committed suicide at Larung Gar in response to the demolitions. Rinzin Drolma and Tsering Drolma, two of the nuns, left notes citing government “harassment” as the reason that they took their own lives. A third nun, Semga, also killed herself, though details on how and when she died were not immediately available.
As mentioned above, pressure from Chinese authorities on Larung Gar’s leadership resulted in a request by the leadership on 23 September for 2,000 nuns to voluntarily leave the site. The nuns, who are from Golog County and Yushu County in eastern Tibet, were given a deadline of 28 September to vacate their residences and leave Larung Gar.
The Larung Gar authorities promised those nuns that arrangements could be made for them to be transferred to other institutions in Sertar County, the same county as Larung Gar, or to institutions in the eastern counties of Nyagrung, Dege and Draggo.
Due to the tight restrictions on information coming out of Tibet, it is not clear at this point whether the deadline was met.
Free Tibet is campaigning to halt the demolitions, with close to 2,000 supporters writing to the Chinese authorities and their own foreign ministers and Chinese embassies. The British Foreign Office has written to Free Tibet to confirm that it is seeking further information on the increased restrictions on religious freedom in Tibet, including the closure or demolition of monasteries.
Tibet groups have dedicated the weeks of 4 and 10 October to lobbying officials to put pressure on China to halt the demolitions. A Day of Action for Larung Gar will take place on 19 October, with protests planned in cities around the world. The details for the London protest, which will take place outside the Chinese Embassy and is being jointly organised by Free Tibet, Students For a Free Tibet UK and the Tibetan Community UK, can be found here.
Add your voice to the international pressure calling on China to halt further removals and demolitions.