A Tibetan resident of India entering Tibet to visit relatives has been sent back after authorities found photos of the Dalai Lama among his possessions, underscoring renewed efforts by China to ban images of the exiled spiritual leader.
The expulsion came as authorities step up searches for the Dalai Lama’s images on travelers and others in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan-populated areas in Chinese provinces, sources say.
The move is believed to be part of a reversal of a policy shift reported in June in which Chinese authorities are said to have told Tibetans in several areas that photos of the Dalai Lama could be openly displayed.
Speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service, the Tibetan traveler from India said he had recently received permission from Chinese authorities to visit relatives in Tibet’s Chamdo (in Chinese, Changdu) prefecture whom he had not seen for 20 years.
“On June 20, I crossed the border bridge from Nepal into Tibet and arrived in Dingri,” a county in Tibet's Shigatse (Rikaze) prefecture, the man said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“When the police in Dingri searched my luggage, they found some photos of the Dalai Lama along with a book by the Dalai Lama about Buddhism,” he said.
“I was then detained in Dingri for ten days and subjected to intense questioning.”
“They asked me whether I was aware of the ban in Tibet on photos of the Dalai Lama. But when I told them I had recently heard about a relaxation of these restrictions, they told me that the only photos now allowed of the Dalai Lama were those taken before 1959.”
The Dalai Lama, who is universally worshiped by Tibetans but is reviled by Chinese leaders as a dangerous separatist, fled from Tibet into exile in India in 1959 following a failed national uprising against Chinese rule.
After questioning the traveler for ten days—first in a military camp and then in Dingri town—officials returned him to the border bridge with instructions that he should return to India, he said.
Though officials “verbally harassed” him in detention, he was not physically hurt during questioning, he said.
Following reports in June of a lifting of the ban on Dalai Lama photos in Tibetan-populated counties of China’s Qinghai province, local authorities began in July to reassert controls, searching personal vehicles and beating and detaining those who resisted the photos’ confiscation.
“On July 15, the police were stopping all vehicles in the Yulshul [in Chinese, Yushu] area and checking for photos of the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa,” another senior Tibetan religious figure, a local resident told RFA.
“Photos of Buddhist protector deities were also confiscated,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Those who tried to resist were severely beaten up,” he said.
Chinese leaders regularly accuse the Dalai Lama of trying to “split” Tibet away from China, whose troops marched into the self-governing Himalayan region in 1950.
But the Dalai Lama denies seeking independence for Tibet, saying that he seeks only a “greater autonomy” that will preserve Tibetan religious and cultural freedoms for his homeland as a part of China.
News of the Tibetan traveler’s forced return to India also followed reports in May that two other Tibetans had been sent back to India and Nepal after they entered Tibet.
On May 27, a Tibetan and a Nepalese who had been detained by Chinese officials inside Tibet after entering from Nepal were escorted back to the border, where the Tibetan, named Drime, was taken into custody by Nepalese authorities and charged with illegal entry.
He was later handed over to immigration authorities in Kathmandu.
Meanwhile, on May 1, an 85-year-old Tibetan man named Jinpa was fined and forced to return to India by Nepalese authorities after attempting to enter Tibet to visit his daughter in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.
Reported by Tenzin Wangyal and Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.