A Tibetan police chief who was dismissed for failing to track down and detain protesters challenging Chinese rule in Qinghai province has become an instant celebrity among Tibetans and is now providing advice to them on how to organize future protests, according to an exile source.
Paltop, chief of police for the Tibetan county of Pema in the Golog (in Chinese, Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was fired on July 1, three months after being ordered by the Chinese authorities to round up Tibetans who had carried out a series of protests early in the year.
“After hearing about this, representatives from local monasteries and area residents went to police chief Paltop’s house and offered him money and ceremonial scarves to show their support,” Tsangyang Gyatso, a Tibetan living in exile, told RFA’s Tibetan service this week.
Paltop was also invited to Akyong Jonang monastery in Pema county, where he was again honored with scarves and offered additional funds to compensate him for the loss of his job.
While there, Paltop offered local Tibetans advice on how to carry out protests while adhering to relevant laws, Gyatso said, citing contacts in the region.
On Aug. 1, Paltop left for his hometown Darlag accompanied by around 300 vehicles of various sizes filled with supporters, “who gave him a very warm farewell.”
“Paltop wore traditional Tibetan dress and made a stop at a place known for its spiritual significance called Chagtse, located about 30 km from Pema county. There, he burned incense and addressed the gathering,” Gyatso said.
Gyatso explained that Paltop's sacking stemmed from Chinese authorities' concerns regarding Tibetan protests in the Golog area.
“Between Jan. 18-26 of this year, Tibetans in the Golog area carried out protests calling for a free Tibet, the return of [exiled spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama, and the release of all political prisoners."
“Several Tibetans taking part in a protest were detained on the spot by Chinese police, who later issued a circular ordering the arrest of everyone who had been involved,” Gyatso said.
Paltop refused, “and as a result, the Chinese were not able to lay their hands on anybody” except for the few who had initially been detained.
Provincial and county authorities gave Paltop three months in which to make further arrests and threatened to dismiss him if he failed to do his job, Gyatso said.
“Since he refused to arrest anybody, he was dismissed,” he said.
Robbie Barnett, director of Columbia University’s Modern Tibetan Studies program, described Paltop’s actions as unusual in Tibet’s police system, where promotions and pay depend on actively countering political opposition.
Many are privately uncomfortable about what they have to do, though, Barnett said.
“There seem to be quite a lot of doubts about what gets done, but no clear idea about what a practical alternative might be. So that’s another reason why people might keep quiet, apart from fear.”
“This is not a system that encourages debate,” Barnett said.
Reported by Chakmo Tso for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Rigdhen Dolma. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.