Monday, April 5, 2010

This Week in Tibet

Now that March is over it should be possible to compile a relatively complete list of protests inside Tibet- protests marking the anniversaries of the 2008 and 1959 uprisings, of course.

First, though, some background on protests inside Tibet. Lhasa is the largest city in Tibet, but the city has been under perpetual lockdown for years.  Having been the epicenter of many of the enormous protests of the past, China keeps a very watchful eye on Lhasa every time March rolls around.  The enormous police presence reaches across Tibet, though- even the tiny mountain villages across Kham and Amdo are host to huge militarized police barracks. Considering how low the population density is, gathering any number of people is impressive. Doubly so because everyone gathers knowing that they don’t have long before thousands of Chinese police show up, and that there are very real consequences to participating in any sort of protest. In the past protests were usually started and supported mainly by monks, but in recent years many protests were started and populated by laypeople and nomads as well as monks. This undermines the Chinese claim that the only dissidents in Tibet are religious extremists who have been riled up by the evil Dalai Lama.

Getting news about these protests to the outside world is also a challenge. Tibetans have been jailed for sending text messages or emails to relatives across the Indian border informing them of protests in their hometowns. The messages that do make it out are then relayed to the Central Tibetan Administration and/or one of the major Tibetan movement groups, who then in turn corroborate the story with contacts inside Tibet and then release the news. Chinese news agencies usually make no mention of protests, doing so only when they reach such a size that they cannot be entirely ignored, and even then they usually refer to them only as “smashing and looting events carried out by a small number of members of the Dalai clique.” This airtight media control is a major part of why Chinese citizens across China frequently have no idea what the rest of the world is talking about when we mention unrest in Tibet. News of more protests will likely continue to leak out for the next few weeks, but these seem to be everything so far:

Anniversary Protests, 2010:

In the Tibetan regional capital Lhasa, businesses meanwhile defied orders to open for business as usual and observed the anniversary in silence, residents there said.

“All the hotels and restaurants owned by Tibetans were closed,” he added.

“They were ordered to open their businesses as usual and were told that if they did not open their shops, their display carts would be taken away,” a Lhasa resident said.

“The Tibetans didn’t open their shops and marked the March 14 anniversary in silence,” he added.
“Thousands of security forces including those dressed in black uniform were deployed in Lhasa.”
Hundreds of Tibetans protested on March 10 in Markham county, residents said.

“They demanded compensation for damage to the local environment, animals, and human beings due to mining activities,” one resident said.

“The Chinese authorities attempted to detain some leaders, but at that time some Tibetan youths injured themselves with swords and threatened to kill themselves if any of the Tibetans were detained.”

“The local authorities sought the help of local Rinpoches and Lamas to convince the Tibetans to return home,” the Markham county resident said.

“On March 14, around 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. … about 30 students from the Tibetan Middle School in Machu [in Chinese, Maqu] protested in streets close to the county center,” one local resident said.

“The student protesters were joined by 500 to 600 other Tibetans.”

“They were shouting against the lack of freedom, calling for Tibetan independence,” he added.

The protesters were surrounded by security forces, with at least 40 people detained late Sunday, March 14, sources said.

The detentions sparked fresh anger among local Tibetan residents, who make up more than 50 percent of the region’s population.

“Around 400 or 500 of them were standing in front of government offices and demanding the release of those detained,” the Machu resident said, in an account confirmed by several other local sources. Several Machu residents estimated that about 3,000 Chinese security forces had been stationed in the area, escalating tensions.

“Some of them shouted for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and demanded resolution of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue,” said Dolkar Kyab, a native of Machu county currently living in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala.

“They managed to protest for about 30 to 40 minutes before they were surrounded by armed police,” he said, citing contacts with local residents.
At least 20 teenagers were taken into custody by police in the remote western town of Hezuo on Wednesday, shortly after a larger group began a protest, a hotel clerk there said.

The town is now crawling with military police and feels safe and calm, said the manager, who declined to give his name because ethnic tensions in Tibetan areas are politically sensitive, and discussing them with foreign journalists risks punishment.

A string of checkpoints have also been set up along the road to Langmu temple, around 70 km (43 miles) away, since Sunday, a hotel employee near the monastery said, but added that he did not know the details of what happened in Machu.
More than 20 students from a primary school in Kham Driru held bold protests against Chinese rule earlier this week, an exile Tibetan having contacts in the region told Phayul.

Driru (Ch: Biru), traditionally a district in the Kham Province of Tibet, is currently a county in Nagchu (Ch: Nagqu) Prefecture of the so-called ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’ (TAR).

"A peaceful protest was held by a group of students in a Primary School in Driru district in Tibet against the Chinese government on March 22," Ngawang Tharpa, a Tibetan from Nagchu now living in exile here, said.

Thapa said slogans like “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama’’, “Free Tibet”, “China out of Tibet” and “Let His Holiness the Dalai Lama come back to Tibet” were raised by the students during the protest.

The protesters were later surrounded by Chinese security forces and their parents were held for interrogation, Tharpa said, citing sources.

[note: I can’t find the later version of the story, which added details about the number of townspeople who joined them]

A Tibetan youth has been secretly detained for his alleged role in burning Chinese flag after removing it from a government building in Kham Driru, an exile Tibetan having contacts in the region told Phayul.

Kunchok Namgyal, age 22, from Totho Village of Tsachu Township in Driru County was arrested by Chinese Communist authorities two weeks ago after removing Chinese flag from a local community meeting hall and setting it on fire, Ngawang Tharpa, a Tibetan from Nagchu now living in exile here, said.

Sporadic demonstrations, both by individuals and by small groups, against Chinese Communist rule in Tibet have continued in and around Driru for more than a month following the Tibetan National Uprising anniversary of 1959 last month.
Chinese authorities in Jomda County, Chamdo Tibet Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) have arrested 2 Tibetan monks who were accused of setting ablaze a government vehicle on the night of March 10, the 51st Tibetan national uprising day, Monlam Tharchin, a Tibetan MP said.

Officials and Police from the county arrested Karma Palden, 24, and 2 others from Zigar monastery on March 11, 2010. The three were taken to the county detention centre but 2 were later released. However, another monk named Gelek, 20, was arrested and locked up with Karma Palden.

In Qinghai, around hundred students of a monastic school founded in 1985 by the late Tenth Panchen Lama held a vigil on the 51st anniversary of the Tibetan uprising day (March 10, 2010) to mourn the death of Tibetans in the nationwide crackdown on protesters that started in March 2008 from Lhasa. The students of Bido monastery in Qinghai province held a prayer of thousand butter lamps for the victims of the Chinese government’s crackdown in the past two years, according to the Voice of Tibet radio service.
Chinese police in Sertha County, Kardze TAP have arrested a 20 year old youth for protesting against the Chinese government Friday (April 2, 2010), according to a Tibetan exile with contacts in the region. Ugyen Namgyal from Choktsang village of Sertha County carried the banned Tibetan national flag and raised slogans demanding “independence for Tibet,” religious freedom, and return of the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama to Tibet. The Chinese police immediately arrived at the scene and beat him severely before arresting him, the source said.

In another incident, two Tibetan monks of Larung Gar Buddhist Institute were taken into police custody on March 31 for holding a protest against the Chinese government, according to another source.

Beyond the sheer number of protests, Beijing should be especially concerned by the number of protests which are initiated by young Tibetans. The issue isn’t going to just magically disappear after the Dalai Lama dies- if anything, losing his moderating influence may lead to a rise in the number of violent incidents. Hopefully someone in Beijing is putting this all together.

I will say that the response from the US media has been pretty disappointing. The 2008 Uprising was a much bigger deal, to be sure, but this is still a pretty large concentration of protests which have gone entirely unremarked here. I guess there's only so much they can do when China bars most foreign journalists from entering Tibetan areas, but if the CTA and the other Tibetan advocacy groups can put it all together, is it too much to ask for them to just mention everything that's been collected?

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