As Tibetans around the world prepare to mark the birthday of their spiritual leader, celebrations will be held in secrecy for those living under Chinese rule, Tibetan sources said.
The Dalai Lama, who arrived in Washington on Tuesday to guide followers of Tibetan Buddhism in a 10-day prayer and meditation ritual, turns 76 on July 6.
But his birthday has prompted authorities in Sichuan province to launch a crackdown on Tibetans in Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) and Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefectures, according to Jampal Monlam, a Tibetan exile living in India.
“July 6 is the birthday of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese authorities strengthen control over Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas around this day each year,” the native of the Tibetan capital Lhasa told RFA in an interview.
“Before the year 2000, Tibetans in Lhasa could mark the day by closing all businesses to pray for the Dalai Lama. There is a small temple for the Dalai Lama in eastern Lhasa,” he said.
“But since 2000, authorities have banned any celebrations on July 6. They have ordered all shops to remain open that day.”
Jampal Monlam said most Tibetans in China are aware of the Dalai Lama’s birthday.
“But now, they have to commemorate the day with Buddhist rituals at their own homes in secret.”
Tibetan woman in Lhasa who gave her name as Dolma confirmed her knowledge of the Dalai Lama’s birthday.
“I’m aware of that,” she said in an interview on Tuesday. “But there is no celebration at all. It is sensitive to talk about things like that here [in Lhasa],” she said.
Dolma said she also remembers when celebrations were permitted in the capital before 2000.
But she was reluctant to say whether she would celebrate the day at home, or if other Tibetans planned on celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday.
“I don’t know. These are sensitive questions. I cannot talk to you freely,” she said.
“Now any topic can be considered sensitive here.”
The Dalai Lama’s birthday comes at a particularly sensitive time in the region as a number of Tibetans have held anti-China protests in both Kardze and Ngaba prefectures in recent weeks.
Local official newspaper Ganzi Daily reported Tuesday that Liu Daoping, the party chief in Kardze, had called for harsh measures against any “secessionist activities,” a term often used to describe Tibetan protests.
Meanwhile, armed police have been dispatched to the area.
Authorities in Kardze have detained more than 60 people in the wake of protests against Chinese rule which began on June 6 and have escalated since June 17. Most of those detained are lamas or local people, according to Tibetan sources in exile.
In addition to calls for Tibetan independence, protesters have also demanded the release of political prisoners who were detained in Kardze the previous year.
Three people, including two nuns, were detained in separate incidents following protests in Kardze on June 28, according to a reporter from Delhi, India, who spoke with people in the region.
Phone calls to the public security bureau and religious affairs bureau in Kardze county went unanswered Tuesday. A police officer who answered the phone at the Police Command Center for Kardze prefecture refused to be interviewed.
Town sealed off
Zoge, a researcher at the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), cited Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala, India, as saying that police in Kardze had fired rubber bullets at protesters on June 24.
“The exiles are originally from Kardze and they talked to people in Kardze over the phone on June 24, learning that police opened fire at demonstrators,” Zoge said.
“The following day, they talked again, and the residents of Kardze said the bullets fired were made of rubber,” he said.
“The demonstrators who were struck suffered bruises, but not life-threatening injuries.”
A resident in suburban Kardze county said in an interview on Tuesday that Kardze town had been sealed off by authorities.
“Entry into Ganzi is no longer allowed. There are no exceptions. I heard Tibetans were protesting there,” the resident said.
When asked if police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators, the man declined to answer.
Meanwhile, the Kirti monastery has been under siege by Chinese security personnel since a young monk from there set himself ablaze and died on March 16 in a protest against Chinese rule in Ngaba prefecture.
More than three months after the self-immolation death, the monastery is surrounded by hundreds of police, soldiers and government officials, with the activities of the monks tightly monitored by security cameras.
At least 300 monks have been taken away from the monastery and sent for "political re-education" while local Tibetans seeking to protect the monks were beaten and detained, drawing worldwide condemnation.
ICT said that according to new information, monks have been leaving the Kirti monastery due to "the presence of troops blockading the monastery, the risks of disappearance, torture, and detention due to the security crackdown combined with a patriotic education campaign that is making religious practice difficult or impossible."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, responding to a foreign journalist's question in Beijing on June 9, said there had been no "enforced disappearances" at Kirti monastery. He said local authorities had taken some monks for "legal education."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.