Chinese police opened fire to disperse hundreds of Tibetans protesting the detention of a respected village leader in Sichuan province, seriously wounding nearly a dozen people, exile sources said Wednesday, quoting local contacts.
Many Tibetans were also detained and beaten in the violent crackdown in Sershul (in Chinese, Shiqu) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on Tuesday, a day after police whisked away village leader Dema Wangdak from his home at midnight, the sources said.
Wangdak, 45, was detained after he complained to the authorities over the harassment of Tibetan women by senior Chinese officials at a cultural performance the local community was forced to host during their visit to the county, the source said.
“Hundreds gathered to call for Wangdak’s release because he is innocent, but the Chinese authorities sent in security forces to crack down on the protesters,” Demay Gyaltsen, a Tibetan living in exile in India, told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“The security forces used tear gas and fired live ammunition indiscriminately to disperse the crowd during the protest in Loshu township,” he said, adding that about “10 Tibetans were seriously wounded” by the gunshots.
Communication links cut off
Dema Wangdak in an undated photo.
Among the injured were Wangdak’s son and brother, both of whom suffered two gunshot wounds each, said Gyaltsen, who heads an organization in India for Tibetans from Sershul’s neighboring Dege county.
After dispersing the protesters, he said, the authorities sought reinforcements and stepped up security late Tuesday, when many Tibetans were detained and communication lines were cut off.
“The village is now entirely surrounded by security forces and many of the adults in the village have gone to the hills to hide,” Jampa Youten, a monk in South India told RFA.
“Those who remained were the younger Tibetans and women, who have been interrogated and tortured by the Chinese security forces,” he said, also citing local contacts. Illegal ceremony
A Tibetan protester showing gunshot wounds in his abdomen.
Youten said that when Wangdak, who is a leader of Shopa village, criticized the Chinese officials for harassing the Tibetan women, the authorities accused him of holding an illegal ceremony at the beginning of a local horse festival in which Tibetans burned incense and made prayer offerings.
“Wangdak voiced strong opposition to the treatment of the women, which led to a verbal altercation with the officials, who then accused the village leader of holding the ceremony and horse racing without the authorities’ permission,” Youten said.
“Under these circumstances, he was taken away secretly at midnight on Aug. 11.”
The Chinese authorities did not cite any reasons for Wangdak’s arrest.
“The Tibetans do not believe he was held for allowing horse racing, as this is a traditional activity and is a very normal thing,” said Tenpa, another exile source in India with contacts in the region.
“His arrest is arbitrary and he didn’t violate any pertinent laws,” he said. 'Speaking up for the poor'
Wangdak has a reputation for “standing up for the weak and speaking up for the poor as well as victims of harassment.”
Tibetans in Kardze prefecture are known for their strong sense of Tibetan identity and nationalism, and “the political climate in the region has been deeply oppressive,” the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), an advocacy group, said in a report.
Last year, at least eight Tibetans were injured when Chinese police fired gunshots and used tear gas to disperse about 1,000 monks and nuns who had gathered in a restive county in Kardze in July to mark the birthday of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.
Some 131 Tibetans to date have set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.Reported by Sonam Wangdue for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.