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Tibetan Monk Vanishes after Staging Protest in Western China

FILE - Monks gather at the Kirti monastery. Losang Thubten, a young monk who recently was detained by police, is said to be a member of Kirti monastery, whose monks have long protested regulations imposed on Tibetan monasteries by Chinese officials.

A young Tibetan monk appears to have been detained by police Monday for carrying a portrait of the Dalai Lama through the streets of Ngaba in western China's Sichuan province.

In a cellphone video that surfaced online, Losang Thubten is seen walking through a shopping area crowded with vehicles and pedestrians; in a second video, he is seen being marched quickly down the middle of the street by two police officers on either side.

A source outside of Tibet told VOA that Thubten is a member of nearby Kirti monastery, whose monks have long protested what they call repressive and humiliating regulations imposed on Tibetan monasteries by Chinese officials.

A monk from Kirti monastery carried out the first self-immolation protest inside Tibet in 2009, and since then Ngaba and the surrounding area has seen a wave of self-immolation protests by monks, nuns and laypeople.

Between 2009 and 2013, when the largest number of self-immolation protests took place, Beijing's response evolved from discrediting protesters as disturbed, fringe activists to accusing them of separatism — and often charging and imprisoning relatives and friends on grounds of collusion.

Another development that has terrified some Tibetans: recent self-immolations in which the person was taken away while still alive, but later declared dead by officials who state the cause of death without allowing access to the remains.

The crackdown on friends and families of those who self-immolate in protest of Chinese policies in the Tibetan Autonomous Region has resulted in fewer protests since 2013. But since 2014, the number of lone street protests, such as the one that took place Monday, has grown.

These lone protesters are typically detained and not heard from again.

Thubten's protest is the first major news to come out of the Ngaba region in 2016, as authorities shut down the internet at the outset of the Tibetan New Year in early February. However, internet services were restored in mid-April, shortly after two sensitive dates for the communist officials in Tibet: commemoration of the March 10, 1959, uprising against Chinese forces in Lhasa, and polling results from the exile Tibetan government elections.

According to sources, the family of Thubten is distraught over the man’s fate, as authorities have not informed relatives of his condition or whereabouts.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Tibetan Service.