China detains founder of Tibetan study camp, rights monitors report

Buddhist teacher forced to leave his academy for military hospital

September 28, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIJING - The renowned founder of a Tibetan study center in the mountains of western China is being held against his will in a Chinese military hospital, according to human rights monitors abroad.

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok apparently has not been formally arrested, but he was forced to leave his mountain academy this summer for a military hospital in the nearby region of Sichuan province, according to the International Campaign for Tibet in Washington, based on the accounts of witnesses.

The leader's senior teachers and students have not been allowed to visit him, the rights group said, and he has not been allowed to return to his academy even as the authorities expelled most students and tore down the log huts built over the years.

"As Tibet's pre-eminent Buddhist teacher, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok's forced removal is a serious blow to Buddhism in Tibet," said John Ackerly, president of the International Campaign for Tibet.

The study center was founded by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok in 1980 near the town of Sertar, 500 miles from the nearest paved road in an ethnically Tibetan zone of Sichuan province.

As word spread of his stringent traditional teachings, the camp attracted many thousands of novice monks and nuns at a time.

In June the authorities, noting a threat to social order and the center's lack of official standing, began ordering residents to leave, saying the school could only house students from the immediate locality. They also began destroying the simple meditation huts and living quarters that sprawl over the hillsides.

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok's whereabouts were initially unknown, but since August, according to local witnesses, he has been held virtually incommunicado at the military hospital in Barkam. His niece, a senior teacher at the center, is also being held in Barkam, witnesses said.

The center near Sertar was never certified by the government as a monastery or school, but it was tolerated for years because its leader concentrated on the study of traditional scriptures and avoided politics.

But as its size and fame grew, the authorities apparently began to see the academy as a potential threat to communist rule, leading to this summer's crackdown.

Army roadblocks now prevent access to the academy, known as Larung Gar, according to local accounts.

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