An unknown number of Tibetan youths have been detained in China's southwestern Sichuan province after staging a protest to appeal for the release of a Buddhist monk jailed for alleged links to a series of bombings, several Tibetan sources said.
The exact number of Tibetans detained on Dec. 5  was unclear, but one exiled source who has been in contact with witnesses said it could exceed 150. At police stations in nearby Kangding, Nyakchukha, and Lithang, repeated phone calls rang unanswered.
"About 60 Tibetans, mostly youths from Othok, went to Nyakchukha county center and appealed for the release of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche," the exile source said, citing contact with several witnesses.
"When they reached the county center, security forces assaulted and detained them. Their motorbikes were smashed and dumped into army vehicles. When other Tibetans learned about the incident, more Tibetans arrived from the Golok and Othok areas," he added.
"The Chinese forces put up roadblocks, but many Tibetans climbed hills and moved towards the county. My sources said there are nearly 500 Tibetans, both male and female. Some said that about 160 were detained."
Another source, speaking from nearby Lithang, said that 60-70 protesters were being held at a newly built detention center located about four miles (6.5 kms) from the Nyakchukha county center.
Both Nyakchukha and Lithang are now filled with Chinese security forces, the source said.
Lithang, home to a major annual horse-racing festival, was the site of 2007 unrest that heralded a massive anti-Chinese Tibetan uprising in early 2008. At that time, the International Campaign for Tibet said protesting nomads in Lithang called for the release of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was sentenced to death in December 2002 along with a relative, Lobsang Dhondup, who was executed almost immediately. Tibetans are only rarely executed in China for political crimes.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, based at a monastery in nomad-dominated Othok, was granted a two-year reprieve, then had his sentence commuted to life in 2005.
In 2004, New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese authorities of persecuting Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and said his case highlighted ongoing strictures placed on Tibetans in China.
Human Rights Watch called for the immediate release of Tenzin Delek pending a new trial conforming to international standards.
Since a widespread Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in early 2008, direct international contact with Tibet has proven far more difficult.
Tibetans themselves can face prosecution for speaking directly with foreign media, making indirect contact through Tibetans in exile a major conduit for news about Tibet.
Another exile source, also citing contacts with witnesses, said a group of Tibetans from Golok and Othok—both Sichuan farming areas—had traveled to Beijing to petition for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's release but were detained and beaten.
"When those who were brought back.to the county center, other local Tibetans stood up in support of those who were severely beaten," the source said.
"When the Tibetans rallied to support [them], the authorities brought in a huge security force and assaulted the Tibetans. I was told that the place near the county center where they were beaten was stained with blood," he said.
"A group of Tibetan youths from the Othok area arrived at the county center on motorbikes. They were also attacked, and the security forces took away all the motorbikes in two army trucks. Several of them were detained and loaded in vehicles," he said.
"I was told many Tibetans who could not be detained are being blocked and surrounded by security force in a valley not far from the County center."