Tibetan Youth Detained, Warned Over Dalai Lama Photo

But he defends his right to keep the photo, citing his 'absolute reverence' for the exiled spiritual leader.

A photo of the Dalai Lama is shown on a monastery's shrine in Qinghai in a file photo.

A young Tibetan living in northwest China’s Qinghai province has been released after being held by police for more than two weeks over his possession of a photo of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, RFA’s Tibetan Service has learned.

Taken into custody recently at a teashop in Qinghai’s Golog (in Chinese, Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the young man defended his right to keep the photo, which was stored as an image on his mobile phone, he told RFA in a telephone interview.

“I am a faithful Tibetan Buddhist who has absolute reverence for His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” the young man said, speaking on condition he not be named. “And so I cannot accept that possession of His Holiness’s picture should be considered illegal.”

The Dalai Lama, who turns 82 this year, fled Tibet into exile in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese rule, and possession or displays of his photo or public celebrations of his birthday have been met with harsh punishment in the past.

Also found on the young man’s phone was an image of the banned Tibetan national flag, he said.

“During the 15 days of my detention, the police interrogated me on a variety of issues related to my possession of those incriminating pictures, particularly the Tibetan national flag, and asked me many questions,” he said.

“However, they did not beat or physically harm me in any way.”

'Big trouble'

The young Tibetan’s interrogators warned him not to listen to or read news coming from media sources outside China, however, adding that even if he came across this by accident, he should be careful not to share it with others, he said.

“And they told me that if they ever found me in possession of pictures like this again, I would be in big trouble,” he said.

The Dalai Lama, who escaped to India almost ten years after Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950, is reviled by Chinese leaders as a dangerous separatist who seeks to split the formerly self-governing region from Beijing’s rule.

In what he calls a Middle Way approach, though, the Dalai Lama says that he seeks only a meaningful autonomy for Tibet as a part of China, with protections for the region’s language, religion, and culture.

Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.