Monk's death highlights tension in Tibet China cracks down on followers of the Dalai Lama


BEIJING -- A leading dissident monk died this month in a prison in Tibet, where the Chinese authorities are carrying out a campaign for tighter political control, international human rights groups reported late Friday.

As Chinese armed forces struggle to keep a lid on protests that have broken out in several Tibetan monasteries in recent months, news of the monk's death is likely to add to the political tension.

The monk, Kelsang Thutop, 49, died July 5 in Drapchi Prison in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, where he was serving an 18-year sentence for political subversion, said Amnesty International and the Tibet Information Network, both London-based human rights groups.

Officials in Tibet could not be reached for comment yesterday, and the death could not be independently confirmed.

Visitors to Tibet and human rights groups have reported a series of protests since last year, particularly in monasteries, several of which have been temporarily closed and reopened. At Ganden Monastery, a dispute erupted on May 6 when government cadres tried to confiscate photographs of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet who fled to India in 1959 as China's Communist forces asserted political control.

On May 21, the Chinese authorities said they would use a nationwide crackdown on crime to pursue supporters of the Dalai Lama.

Amnesty International reported that Kelsang Thutop died of an unspecified illness July 5, after serving seven years in prison.

Kelsang Thutop was an accountant at the huge Drepung Monastery but fell afoul of authorities after he led younger monks in a street protest in 1987 that grew into riots.

BTC After martial law was declared in Lhasa in 1989, he was arrested at the border with Nepal while trying to flee. He was sentenced to prison at a public rally in November 1989 and accused of being a main culprit in an organization that spread "counterrevolutionary propaganda."

Friday, the New China News Agency issued a long defense of China's protection of Tibetan culture, arguing that efforts to teach both the Chinese and Tibetan languages have improved literacy.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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