A human rights group says China has detained several hundred Tibetans returning from India after attending teaching sessions with the Dalai Lama.
New York-based Human Rights Watch issued the report Thursday, alleging Chinese authorities have held some detainees since Feb. 6 for attending religious teachings of their spiritual leader in exile last month.
According to the report, alleged detentions are expected to last anywhere from 20 days to three months, during which Tibetans are subject to political re-education, the first known instance of large-scale political indoctrination targeting Tibetan laypeople since the 1970s.
Beijing's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin denied any knowledge of detentions, but said local security authorities in Tibetan areas have made what he described as "special arrangements" in light of unspecified local realities, to ensure security and safety.
Liu then repeated accusations that overseas forces are attempting to sabotage social stability in Tibetan areas of China in order to pressure Chinese authorities and incite a campaign for Tibetan independence.
Tibetans inside China have increasingly tried to draw attention to their objections to Chinese policies by committing suicide by setting themselves on fire. There have been more than 20 reported cases of Tibetan self-immolation in the past year, which Beijing describes as acts of terrorism.
Liu's comments come as the Tempa Tsering, the Dalai Lama's representative in New Delhi, publicly denied that teachings attended by Chinese Tibetans were geared toward violence.
“It was a religious teaching that the Dalai Lama gave, and it was attended by 250,000 people from 66 countries around the world," he said, pointing out that recent protest suicides are committed by individuals who can no longer bear living under Chinese rule.
He accused China of using separatism as an excuse to crack down even harder on Tibetan culture and religion.
"The Tibetan people are sacrificing themselves, without hurting even a Chinese soul and without any kind of hatred," he said.
Aside from recent anti-China protests in Tibetan areas of China, the month of March is an especially sensitive time because it is the anniversary of the Dalai Lama's 1959 flight into exile in India. More recently, it is the anniversary of bloody riots in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, in 2008.