RFA and TIN reports: Tibetan Monk Arrested After Blaze in Ganzi

January 26, 2006

CECC Summary
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on January 11, 2005, that police in Kangding, the capital of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in Sichuan province, have detained a former monk on suspicion of starting a fire in the building housing the prefectural people’s congress. Police in Ganzi confirmed to RFA that a fire had occurred, but they declined to comment on the investigation or any arrests. The building "burned to the ground" in the early hours of December 23, according to RFA’s sources, but no casualties were reported. On January 11 Tibet Information Network (TIN) reported that the fire began about 3:00 AM and that the extent of the damage was unknown.

The Ganzi legislature had been meeting to discuss issues that included how to manage a crackdown on "separatists opposed to Chinese rule." Pro-independence leaflets had been scattered or pasted up in the area, but TIN’s report acknowledges that TIN has neither found nor verified evidence of a direct link between the fire and the leaflets.

Sonam Phuntsog, the suspect, was a monk at Kardze Monastery in Ganzi county until he was expelled in 1992 for "alleged political activities," according to RFA’s account. TIN reports that he maintained contact with the monastery and that sources describing him said that "he has long been suspected by the authorities of being a free Tibet activist."

CECC Comment
Neither Chinese officials nor news media have made statements about the fire that indicate whether clear evidence exists to establish that arson was committed, or that Sonam Phuntsog was implicated. According to a CECC source, the people’s congress building is an aging structure that may have been prone to accidental fire.

Sichuan provincial security authorities intensified religious repression in the province’s Tibetan areas in the mid- to late-1990s, resulting in more than 130 cases of detention or imprisonment during that period, according to data available in the CECC Political Prisoner Database (PPD). More than 30 people remain imprisoned. At least three Buddhist teachers have been accused of endangering state security and sent to prison. As mentioned in the TIN report, several villagers in Ganzi were sentenced to imprisonment or reeducation through labor after participating in ceremonies offering prayers for the long life of the Dalai Lama in 2002. In most instances, Chinese authorities have treated devotion to the Dalai Lama as a threat against China. More information is available in the 2004 CECC Annual Report.