Chinese authorities levelled almost half of Yarchen Gar – one of the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist sites – in August, according to recently published satellite images.

London-based NGO Free Tibet reported that a densely populated area on the west bank of the river running through Yarchen Gar in Palyual County, eastern Tibet has been reduced to bare ground.

yarchen gar tibet demolition
Yarchen Gar before and after demolition. Photo: Free Tibet.

Monks and nuns have also been forced out of their homes and places of worship in the area, with research group Tibet Watch confirming the removal of at least 70 nuns in July.

“These latest images demonstrate once again the Chinese Communist Party’s contempt for the Tibetan people, who are forced to endure being evicted from their homes and torn away from their communities on the orders of a government that they do not even recognise as their own,” said John Jones, campaigns and advocacy manager for Free Tibet.

Yarchen Gar
Yarchen Gar. Photo: Free Tibet.

“The CCP knows full well what it is doing is cruel and deserving of the highest condemnation, and that is why they cover it up by closing off the site and detaining former residents… The satellite evidence is clear and undeniable.”

Established in 1985, Yarchen Gar is a Buddhist monastery complex that previously had a population of around 10,000 people. However, Free Tibet said that photo evidence suggests Chinese authorities planned to open the site up to tourists, with a hotel and several cark parks constructed to the north of the community and roads widened.

nuns eviction yarchen gar
Nuns evicted from Yarchen Gar, Tibet in May 2019. Photo: Free Tibet.

The latest round of evictions in Yarchen Gar began in July, with US-backed Radio Free Asia reporting at least 3,500 people being removed this year, citing local sources. The demolitions followed in August.

Tibet Watch reported that 70 relocated nuns were sent back to their native Jomda County, nearly 300 kilometres away, and were forced to undergo “patriotic re-education” for two to three months.

yarchen gar demolition
Satellite imagery of Yarchen Gar after partial demolition. Photo: Free Tibet.

Chinese authorities have reportedly deployed 600 military personnel in the area, and foreign visitors have been barred for the time being.

Free Tibet had previously reported demolitions and evictions in Yarchen Gar, with 1,000 residents forced to leave in 2016 and authorities tearing down 3,500 homes in 2018.

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Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.