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China arrests at least 100 Tibetans over dam project protests

Dam would destroy six Buddhist monasteries and force relocation of people from two villages, sources say
An activists of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) shouts slogans during a protest in solidarity with the ongoing White Paper protests in China, in New Delhi on Dec 2, 2022. Over 100 Tibetans have been arrested for protesting against a hydro-power dam project in Tibet in recent weeks.

An activists of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) shouts slogans during a protest in solidarity with the on-going "White Paper" protests in China, in New Delhi on Dec 2, 2022. Over 100 Tibetans have been arrested for protesting against a hydro-power dam project in Tibet in recent weeks. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 23, 2024 08:40 AM GMT
Updated: February 27, 2024 05:54 AM GMT

More than 100 people, including monks and members of ethnic minority groups, have been arrested for protesting against a dam project that would allegedly destroy monasteries and villages in China's southwestern Sichuan province, according to a report.

The arrests were made following rare protests held since Feb. 14 in Tibet's Dege County, wherein monks and residents urged Chinese officials to scrap the Gangtuo hydropower station project, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Feb. 22.

The residents were distraught after hearing that the dam would destroy six Buddhist monasteries and force the relocation of people from two villages, RFA reported citing sources and video footage from Sichuan.

One of the monasteries feared threatened is Wonto Monastery, “which includes ancient murals that date to the 13th century,” according to an unnamed source.

The 2,240-megawatt hydropower station has been planned on the Drichu River, located in the upper reaches of the Yangtze, one of China’s most important waterways.

Reportedly, some 300 Tibetans had gathered outside the Dege County Town Hall to protest against the dam project which was met with stiff police action.

The police used water cannon, pepper spray, and tasers on the protesters to break up the protests, a source alleged.

“Some of the arrested protesters required hospitalization due to rough treatment,” the source told RFA.

Following the protests, Chinese officials imposed restrictions, including closing all the main roads and restricting internet access in the villages and monasteries in the Wangbuding township area.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, told RFA that he was not aware of the arrests.

"China is a country under the rule of law. China protects the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese nationals in accordance with the law,” Liu said in an emailed statement.

The contentious dam project is part of China’s National Development and Reform Commission’s 2012 plan to build a massive 13-tier hydropower complex on the Drichu.

The planned capacity of the 13 hydropower stations is 13,920 megawatts.

Around 300 monks reside in the Wonto and Yena monasteries located close to the site of the planned project which hold significant cultural and religious importance to locals.

Wonto Monastery which was severely damaged during China’s Cultural Revolution was saved by locals, as were its ancient murals. They began rebuilding the monastery in 1983.

The number of monks who live and worship at the four other monasteries slated for destruction is not known.

About 2,000 people live in the two villages and would be forced to relocate because of the dam project, RFA reported.

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