Thousands of mostly Tibetan pilgrims who travelled to India for a rare Buddhist ceremony held by the Dalai Lama have returned to China under pressure from Beijing, organisers said Wednesday.
The 81-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader will this month preside over the Kalachakra teachings at Bodhgaya in eastern India, where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment more than 2,000 years ago.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world are expected to attend the event, which is held only once every few years.
But as preparations got under way on Wednesday, the chairman of the organising committee Karma Gelek Yuthok said almost 7,000 pilgrims had returned to China, citing pressure from authorities there.
« It is unfortunate, they have returned after Chinese pressure. They are nearly 7,000, » he told journalists in Bodhgaya.
« They planned to end their pilgrimage in Bodhgaya (but) just because of this they have gone back. »
Yuthok, who is a member of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in the north Indian town of Dharamsala, said some pilgrims had reported receiving threats to relatives in China if they did not return.
In 2012 China detained hundreds of Tibetans after they returned from the Kalachakra in Bodhgaya.
Last month Radio Free Asia reported that many Tibetan pilgrims who travelled to Dharamsala ahead of the Kalachakra had been ordered to return home before the end of the year, preventing them from heading on to Bodhgaya.
It said the Dalai Lama had held a special audience for them in Dharamsala last month.
The Chinese embassy in Delhi declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
The Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959 but is still deeply revered by many Tibetans.
Beijing says its troops « peacefully liberated » Tibet in 1951 and accuses the Nobel Peace laureate of seeking Tibetan independence through « spiritual terrorism ».
He says he merely wants greater autonomy for his homeland, where many accuse the central government of religious repression and eroding the Tibetan culture.
The Kalachakra opened in Bodhgaya on Tuesday, although the main teaching section will only begin next week.
A spokesman for the Indian government said it was unaware of the issue.