KATHMANDU—Thousands of Tibetans in western China’s Qinghai province are still defying a Chinese crackdown in the area, staging protests calling for peaceful dialogue with their exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
“In the Tsekhog [Zeku] area in Huangnan prefecture, the monks are continuing their peaceful protests as of March 20,” a protester told an Amdo dialect reporter from RFA’s Tibetan service.
“Roughly 2,000 Tibetans, both monks and laypersons, are involved in the protests. The protesters are calling for the Chinese leadership to open a peaceful dialogue with the Dalai Lama and resolve the Tibetan issue peacefully,” the protester said, over the sound of slogans being chanted.
The protesters, who live in a traditionally Tibetan area of Qinghai which is home to large numbers of nomadic herders, were demanding a meaningful autonomous status inclusive of all Tibetan areas, but within the People’s Republic of China, he added.
They were also demanding that the Chinese leadership allow the Dalai Lama to visit the Amdo region, a cry raised during protests in Lithang, a town in China's Sichuan province, last summer.
“Right now there are no security forces in the area but we heard that they are coming. We have no freedom inside China,” the protester said. “We are right now protesting in front of the county government offices. We are about 2,000 protesters and we are protesting peacefully.”
Right now there are no security forces in the area but we heard that they are coming. We have no freedom inside China.
Thousands of security forces have been drafted into traditionally Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provinces following last week’s crackdown in Lhasa during which armed police began shooting rioting protesters.
While some protesters have stormed government buildings, throwing stones and clashing with armed police who fired live ammunition and tear-gas, other protests have proceeded peacefully, with sit-ins and horseback charges by nomads carrying the banned Tibetan flag.
Residents of Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) autonomous prefecture in Sichuan said two monks were shot dead by Chinese armed police after they defied a police cordon set up around the Kirti monastery. Local residents also said a “massacre” had occurred during the clashes around Kirti.
While the reports were not immediately verifiable, China on Thursday admitted for the first time that its forces had fired on protesters during clashes in Sichuan.
The state-run news agency Xinhua said police acted in self-defense when they fired on the protesters on Sunday, in the government’s first admission its security forces have caused injuries in their crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.
Tibet authorities also said they had arrested dozens of people involved in the wave of protests that have swept the mountain region and prompted Beijing to pour in troops to crush further unrest.
Local security forces issued a warning that they had orders to shoot anyone if they created problems in the area.
In Ngaba, Chinese police were conducting door-to-door searches of all Tibetan homes in the area, sources in the region said.
“Pictures of the Dalai Lama or any articles, objects, or documents that are politically sensitive in nature are being confiscated,” one source said.
Police were also arresting any Tibetan found with such items in their home, he added. “Tibetans are also being told that they will be detained until the end of the Olympics, and once the Olympics are over, court proceedings will then begin,” he added.
Exiled Tibetan sources said a military presence had begun to build up in the Amdo-speaking area of Bora (in Chinese, Xiang) in Labrang (Xiahe) county.
“Monks in the local monasteries are not allowed to come out and those who are outside are not allowed to get in,” a monk at the Drepung Gomang monastery in southern India said in an interview.
“On March 18, Tibetans from different remote areas came to the county town on horseback, and many young Tibetans came on motorcycles. The motorcycles were run over by Chinese police trucks,” the monk said.
Indian sources also reported 15 deaths when Chinese armed police clashed with around 500 Tibetan protesters who refused to disperse in Sichuan’s Karze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture, but this report couldn’t be independently verified.
In Qinghai, which borders Tibet, around 400 students from the Yushu area tore down Chinese flags and set fire to them, a source inside Tibet said.
“Security forces came in and the student protesters were surrounded,” the Tibetan source said. “Local security forces issued a warning that they had orders to shoot anyone if they created problems in the area.”
Prisons in Lhasa are filled to capacity.
“The Tibetan students are not allowed to make any contact with other Tibetans in the area for fear of protests,” the source added.
The Tibetan capital was tense but quiet Thursday, with local residents fearful of the number of arrests taking place.
A Tibetan resident of Lhasa said police were still keeping strict controls on movements in and around the city. “We must show identity cards when going in and out of the city,” he told RFA’s Mandarin service.
“The curfew is still in effect and the streets are basically abandoned. The shops are not doing much business. People are staying home,” the resident said.
People are getting arrested for saying even one sentence that they ought not to say. I am scared.
One woman said: “People are getting arrested for saying even one sentence that they ought not to say. I am scared. I cannot tell you anything.”
Another man said many people had been arrested but it was hard to know exactly who, because the authorities had cut off the mobile phone network.
“I have been staying home and have not been able to keep in touch with my friends,” he said. “My cell phone has no signal. When people call me, the message says it’s turned off. But in fact I never turned it off.”
A Tibetan official in exile said the authorities were detaining all Tibetans without identification in Lhasa, regardless of whether they participated in last week’s anti-Chinese protests and rioting.
“A lot of Tibetans are nomadic herdsmen who do not carry ID. Prisons in Lhasa are filled to capacity,” the official said.
Original reporting by RFA’s Tibetan and Mandarin services. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Karma Dorjee and Jennifer Chou. Produced and edited in English by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.