The Olympics in China offer Tibetans a chance to draw world attention to human rights issues.
While Tibetan exiles traditionally mark the failed 1959 uprising on March 10 with marches, people in Tibet have usually chosen more private forms of commemoration, says Anne Holmes, director of the Free Tibet Campaign in London.
This year, however, "they are aware that in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, the media's and the world's eyes are on Tibet," she says, "They felt it was worth the risk of doing a lot more this year than they would normally dream of doing.
"Tibetans see this as a make or break year. This is the year when world attention is focused on China's human rights record," she adds.
This week's protests, which have spread to other Tibetan monasteries in the Qinghai region of China, will "bring the issue of China's presence in Tibet higher up the international agenda than it has been for a long time," says Ms. Holmes.
Historically, Tibetan Buddhist monks marked the Great Prayer Festival in March, until the festivities were banned by the Chinese authorities in 1989, following disturbances.