Three Tibetans have been detained by Chinese police in Tibet for attempting to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. In the run-up to the anniversary, local authorities banned religious events, imposed restrictions on public gatherings and increased security surveillance. Despite these obstacles many Tibetans defied the government and held celebrations both publically and privately.
Three Tibetans detained
Three Tibetans have been detained by Chinese police for activities relating to the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. One Tibetan was taken into custody for sharing banned images, whilst two others were arrested for organising a horse race.
• Tsering Dondrub, aged 25, was arrested on 20 June for posting images of the Tibetan flag and the Dalai Lama on the popular messaging service WeChat. The arrest took place in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren) county. Malho (Ch: Huangnan) prefecture, Amdo (now incorporated into China’s Qinghai province). His current whereabouts and condition are unknown. The authorities in Rebkong ordered Tibetans not to use social media in the run-up to the Dalai Lama’s birthday (see below).
• Jamyang and one unidentified Tibetan were detained on 5 June for organising a horse race following restrictions on public gatherings in Machu (Ch: Maqu) county, Gannan prefecture, Amdo (now part of China’s Gansu province) in the run-up to the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Officials banned the traditional horse race and took the two men into custody. Their current whereabouts and condition are not known.
Restrictions implemented across Tibetan regions
In the weeks leading up to the Dalai Lama’s birthday (6 July in the western calendar and 21 June in the Tibetan calendar), Chinese authorities in Tibet stepped up restrictions on public gatherings, banned festivals and increased security patrols. The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy described the crackdowns as “following a similar pattern as the build-up before the Tiananmen Square anniversary”.
• Following the arrest of Tsering Dondrub for sharing photos of the Dalai Lama and the Tibet flag (see above), the authorities in Rebkong county (Qinghai province) ordered Tibetans not to assemble in groups or use social media during the politically sensitive period. The authorities instructed Tibetans not to share photos or videos.
• In the village of Manggo, Rebkong county (the home of Tsering Dondrub), planned public activities and events to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday were banned by the Chinese authorities. According to a source quoted by Radio Free Asia, the residents “had no choice except to celebrate within the confines of their homes”.
• The Chinese authorities in Rebkong also prohibited the public from attending festivities marking the Dalai Lama’s birthday at Riwo and Palden Gyurme monasteries. Lay Tibetans were not allowed to attend prayer recitals or make offerings at the monasteries. Radio Free Asia quoted a source as saying that “even mobile phones carried by members of the public were confiscated and their contents searched.”
• In Pema (Ch: Baima) county, Golog (Ch: Guoluo) prefecture, Amdo (now part of Qinghai province), authorities circulated a document listing “20 Points for Stability” in the area. Included in the restrictions are orders that Tibetans cannot raise the banned national flag, or organise any activities related to the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Earlier this year, authorities in Malho prefecture (Qinghai) issued a document of 20 rules outlining criminal activities that were deemed “splittist”. https://www.tibetsociety.com/content/view/543/#rebkong
• Local officials in Machu (Ch: Maqu) county, (Gansu province) banned public gatherings in the run-up to the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Two Tibetans were arrested for attempting to organise a horse race (see detentions above).
• At the beginning of June, Sichuan officials banned a two-week religious assembly. The event, comprising formal debates on religious topics, was to be hosted at Jonang monastery in Dzamthang (Ch: Rangtang) county, Ngaba (Ch: Aba) prefecture, Amdo (Sichuan province).
• Chinese security forces were deployed to oversee a religious festival at the end of June in Sangchu (Ch: Xiahe) county, Kanlho (Ch: Gannan) prefecture (Gansu province). The Kalachakra ritual was attended by hundreds of Tibetans and “truckloads” of security forces carrying weapons, according to a witness quoted by Radio Free Asia.
Celebrations held in defiance of Chinese bans
Despite bans, restrictions and increased security surveillance, Tibetans across Tibet celebrated the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. Even though China has imposed communication restrictions, news has been received of several public events and a number of private functions. The full extent of celebrations across Tibet is difficult to gauge, but it would seem most Tibetans marked the occasion in some form or other. (Pictured right: Tibetans celebrate in Amdo with a picnic including photos of the Dalai Lama.)
• On 23 June, over a thousand Tibetans assembled at the Jonang Chamda monastery in Golog prefecture (Qinghai) to celebrate the birthdays of both the Dalai Lama and the monastery’s senior monk Khenchen Sherab Salje. The monastery’s 500 monks also held a three-day prayer chant, blessing the Dalai Lama’s long life.
• Radio Free Asia reported that Tibetans in Golog prefecture (Qinghai) worked around bans on observing the Dalai Lama’s birthday by holding private celebrations in their homes.
• Also in Golog prefecture, it was reported that incense was burned and fireworks set off in Gepasumdo (Ch: Tongde) county and prayer ceremonies were held in monasteries in Pema county.
• In Draggo (Ch: Luhuo) county, Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) prefecture (Sichuan), monks and villagers erected an altar at Churathang, a wide open area. A large banner wishing blessings for the Dalai Lama was displayed and offerings were made to a large photo of the Dalai Lama. Monks and laypeople recited prayers for his long life, burned incense, and observed different activities during the day.
The monks of Khagya Toe monastery in Kahlho (Ch: Channan) prefecture (Gansu) paid respects to portraits of the Dalai Lama and offered incense and ceremonial scarves during celebrations, including an outdoor festival (pictured right). Birds that had previously been captured were released for the long life of the Dalai Lama. Local Tibetans staged plays about a Tibetan emperor and an early Tibetan national hero. Although Chinese police were present during the celebrations, there were no reports of detentions or interference.
Celebrations were also reported in Meyshe monastery in Tsoe city, (Kanlho, Gansu), Lanzhou (Gansu), Kangtsa monastery in Tsoshar (Qinghai), monks from Tsekhog county in Malho (Qinghai), and by monks and laypeople at a picnic (pictured left) in Serthar (Kardze, Sichuan) .
• In Lhasa, it was reported that hundreds of Tibetans circumambulated the Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama, to mark the Dalai Lama’s birthday.