The arrest and sentencing to up to 20 years of illegal imprisonment of four Tibetan priests revealed the extent to which the Chinese communist regime is determined to eliminate any autonomy in this region that has been demanding for decades to live according to its identity and religious and cultural traditions.

A report recently published by Human Rights Watch reported that four Tibetan monks were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison in secret trials with no apparent evidence of criminal wrongdoing following a violent raid on a monastery in 2019, which only now has become public.

According to the report, Choegyal Wangpo, a Tibetan monk at Tengdro Monastery, made a blunder one morning in late 2019 when he went for coffee in Lhasa, the capital and most populous city of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), where he left his cell phone forgotten on the table and walked out.

In any other country, the worst thing that could happen in an event like this is to return, and some inconsiderate person has taken the cell phone. But under the CCP regime, the consequences were much worse; basically, the mistake was paid for with 20 years in jail for the owner of the cell phone and three other monks who fell for being involved in the messages that the regime’s intelligence apparatus detected on the cell phone.

Certain messages addressed to people in Nepal found in WeChat conversations on the cell phone, along with evidence of a money donation, were allegedly what prompted the violent raid on the monastery, the report said.

It should be noted that since 1996, it has been totally forbidden to have images of the Dalai Lama, who has lived as a refugee in India for more than half a century. It is also forbidden to maintain contact with anyone who has decided to leave the country.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the case represents a new sign of the pressure exerted on local officials in Tibet to crack down on alleged “political subversion” against the communist regime, even when there is no confirmed wrongdoing.

“No reports have surfaced indicating any political or dissident activity on the part of the monks, other than routine misdemeanors, such as possessing photographs of the Dalai Lama on their phones and exchanging messages with Tibetans abroad, with no indication of any purpose considered subversive,” HRW asserts.

The human rights group relied on interviews with Tibetans outside China, official media, social networks, and exile media after learning of the raid to reconstruct the available details of the case in a 60-page report released Tuesday.

Upon investigation, they determined that Wangpo was arrested, interrogated, and severely beaten after he forgot his cell phone. Authorities then raided his village in Tingri County and the adjoining Tengdro monastery, arresting some 20 monks and detaining others for months.

According to witness accounts, villagers were subjected to political education sessions to “unify the thoughts of monks and nuns” to “follow the party.” 

Three days after the raid, one monk, Lobsang Zoepa, who was reportedly viciously beaten while in detention, took his own life in apparent protest, HRW said.

Wangpo was sentenced in 2020 to 20 years in prison in a trial that the NGO reports were completely secret, and in which he had no access to institutional safeguards of any kind other than defense. Lobsang Jinpa, Norbu Dondrup, and Ngawang Yesh, three other monks considered accomplices, were sentenced to 19, 17, and five years in prison, respectively.

The TAR is formally a province that is supposed to have some autonomy but has long been subject to strict control by the CCP central government. It has a population of 3.5 million and is the second-largest in the country after Xinjiang, with an area of more than one million square kilometers. That is about half of what was historical Tibet, which has its own culture and identity, different from those coming from eastern China.

The CCP since the cultural revolution in the 1960s has spared no effort in persecuting and suppressing all kinds of religious and spiritual beliefs. Currently, the Muslim minority in the Xinjiang area is being brutally persecuted in an explicit attempt by the CCP to completely eliminate Uighur culture. Former President Trump classified the persecution in January this year as “genocide,” TheBL reported.