Tibetan Family Denied State Benefits Over Dalai Lama Photo

Police in Lithang pay frequent unannounced visits to Tibetan homes to search for photos of the exiled spiritual leader.

A map showing the location of Lithang county in Sichuan's Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Authorities in a Tibetan-populated county of western China’s Sichuan province have refused state benefits to a needy family found in possession of a photo of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Tibetan sources say.

Married couple Tsering and Lhamo, residents of Tsosang village in Lithang county’s Shungpa township, had moved to the area several years before to find work, a Tibetan source in Nepal told RFA, citing contacts in Lithang.

“Since then, they have been working as day laborers to make ends meet,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Declared eligible for government subsidies in a township-wide poverty alleviation program launched in mid-June, the couple suddenly found themselves disqualified after a surprise visit to their home by Chinese officials, the source said.

“The officials came unannounced, and they saw a photo of the Dalai Lama on display in the couple’s house,” the source said, adding that when the couple went to pick up their benefits the next day, they were told their subsidy was cut off.

“The officials called them separatist sympathizers for keeping the picture on display,” he said.

“Separatism” is a charge often leveled against Tibetans calling for greater cultural or religious rights in their historic homeland, now ruled by China.

Police in Lithang now make frequent visits to Tibetan homes to search for photos of the exiled spiritual leader, RFA’s source, a Lithang native himself, said.

“These abrupt entries into their homes have caused great anxiety and become a problem in the daily lives of ordinary Tibetans,” he said.

“Previously, the Dalai Lama’s birthday was celebrated together with other annual religious observances in Lithang monastery, but this year in mid-June the monks were all sent away on a three-weeks’ vacation,” he said.

“Thus, they were deprived of their annual debate session, and they couldn’t celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday.”

The Dalai Lama, who turned 83 on July 6 this year, fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese rule, and displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo or public celebrations of his birthday have been harshly punished in the past.

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