Authorities in northwestern China’s Qinghai province have ordered supporters of a freed Tibetan political prisoner not to publicly celebrate his release, threatening severe punishment for anyone caught filming images of his return, sources said.
Palden Gyatso, 46, was freed in the early morning hours of March 21 after serving six years of a seven-year prison term for taking part in a 2009 protest against Chinese rule, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
He was then brought “in secret” to his home in Machen (in Chinese, Maqin) county in the Golog (Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“On that day, monks and local residents wanted to welcome him, and were preparing a grand reception,” the source said.
Authorities at first told area residents they would be allowed to welcome Gyatso at a place near Ragya monastery, where he had previously served as a monk in charge of discipline, the source said.
“But later they changed their mind and posted police everywhere, and the people who came to welcome him were restricted to the area of the monastery itself.”
Local Tibetans were further warned against taking photographs or making video recordings of Gyatso’s return, and were told they would be “severely punished” if such images were distributed to contacts outside the area.
Police then confiscated mobile phones belonging to Gyatso’s family members and friends and noted down the numbers of phones held by others in the crowd, RFA’s source said.
No explanation was given for Gyatso’s early release from prison, where he had served six years of a seven-year sentence for joining local protests following the March 2009 drowning of a Ragya monk who had thrown himself into a river to escape detention by police.
The monk, Tashi Sangpo, had been sought by authorities for pulling down a Chinese flag at Ragya and hoisting the banned Tibetan national flag in its place, sources said.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 137 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the Dalai Lama’s return.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service and by Dan Zhen for the Mandarin Service. Translated by Rigdhen Dolma and Ping Chen. Written in English by Richard Finney.