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Heightened security at Kumbum monastery

Police monitor Tibetan worshippers during New Year festivities

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Chinese authorities have once again deployed heavy security during Chotrul Duchen at Kumbum Monastery in eastern Tibet.

Chotrul Duchen is the 15th day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, and this year’s celebrations fell on 19 February. During the festivities huge sculptures are made from yak butter which are then carved into by Tibetans who have a lifetime experience of this craft. This unique art draws spectators from all across Tibet.

Such crowds pose a security threat in the eyes of Chinese authorities.  Video footage clearly shows an all-pervasive police presence as Tibetans gather to admire the butter sculptures. The police, who were wearing black uniforms and Cossack hats, can be seen walking in the middle of the crowd. The footage is limited due to restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities on filming, however according to our sources, the presence of these security officials soured the atmosphere.  

In March 2018, Tibet Watch reported on similar video footage which showed the Chinese People’s Armed Police and Public Security Bureau forces deployed at Kumbum Monastery during the annual butter sculpture festival.

*Footage below:

A butter sculpture encircled by a line of security personnel. It appears that the monastery has been fortified by Chinese security forces.

The extent of the military deployment to the monastery. While military and security personnel are present in large numbers, few devotees can be seen.

Armed security officials accompanied by police trained dogs patrolling the festival.

The year before footage from Kumbum also showed hundreds of armed troops deployed outside the monastery in what has become a regular occurrence. 

 
 

Kumbum Monastery is particularly significant for Tibetans given it is the birthplace of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, whose disciples include a previous Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. This amongst other reasons makes Kumbum one of the most revered monasteries in the region.

However, heavy mass surveillance and security is not limited to New Year celebrations in Kumbum but are seen frequently across Tibet at public festivals and gatherings. Such displays of force, once again demonstrate the Chinese Communist Party’s determination to control and limit expressions of Tibetan culture and Buddhism.