Some 300 Chinese militia armed with AK-47 rifles and electric prods descended yesterday on 80 monks in the largest publicly known arrest of Tibetan Buddhist priests in more than a decade. The Chinese force, part of reinforcements flown to Lhasa to quell the latest uprising in support of Tibetan independence, stormed from six trucks as the unarmed monks marched from the Drepung monastery to the government headquarters to demand the release of 21 imprisoned brethren.
The Chinese militia beat the monks with wooden staves and cudgels and threw 30 of them into vehicles at the foot of the Potala Palace, the seat of Tibets's exiled political and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Other police pursued the remaining monks two blocks to the government offices, beating a boy and a woman as well as the priests.
Some of more than 200 Tibetan onlookers cried out in protest, but police trained their cocked rifles on the crowd and the Tibetans fell back.
The reprisal indicates that Peking could react severely to a rally against Chinese domination widely rumored to be planned for today, the 37th anniversary of China's invasion of Tibet.
The disciplined Chinese blitz against the Tibetans contrasted starkly with the police reaction to a rally of 40 monks in Lhasa on Oct. 1. During that independence demonstration on China's national day, police panicked and fired on an unarmed mob, killing at least seven Tibetans.
The Tibetan parliament in exile in India, echoing monks at Lhasa's three leading monasteries, appealed to the United Nations on Monday to help free the imprisoned Tibetans, saying Peking was guilty of ``brutal methods not less than Hitler's atrocities.''
Police in Lhasa arrested the other Drepung monks in a protest for independence on Sept. 27 as the exiled Dalai Lama, considered by tibetans a ``god-king,'' appealed to the United States Congress to help end Chinese domination.
Like their colleagues, the monks on Tuesday were taken north on a road that leads to the Drapchi prison, according to two West German travelers.
Peking authorities have jailed more than 110 monks and an undetermined number of other Tibetans since the protests began last week. The Tibetans could face the charge of ``counterrevolution'' which is punishable with the death sentence.
``The police come at night, there are a lot of them in the streets, they are capturing people,'' said one monk on condition he not be identified by name.
``People are very afraid,'' he added.
Amnesty International reported in June that Chinese authorities have arrested numerous religious citizens, Christians as well as Buddhists. The London-based human rights group reported that it ``has continued to receive reports of arrests and harassment of people involved in peaceful religious activities.''
Chinese Minister of Justice Zou Yu last week termed claims that officials have violated the human rights of Tibetans ``sinister slander.''
In an interview with the New China News Agency he denied that Peking has jailed some 20,000 Tibetans in 84 prisons in the region as reported by US author and Tibetan expert John F. Avedon.
Rather, Mr. Zou said Tibet has just one prison and two labor camps with a total of 970 inmates, 27 of whom are serving sentences as ``counterrevolutionaries.''
However, Amnesty International reported that Chinese authorities have jailed dissidents in two prisons in Lhasa alone, including Drapchi in which one of Tibet's most well-known activists for independence, Geshe Lobsang Wangchuk, is serving an 18-year sentence for advocating a non-violent struggle against Chinese rule.
Peking annexed Tibet in 1950 and, according to the Dalai Lama, has consolidated its rule by allegedly killing 1.2 million Tibetans and destroying thousands of monasteries.