Tibetans in China observed the birthday of the Dalai Lama on the weekend by holding celebrations “covertly” in spite of new restrictions, including a cut-off in communications in some areas, sources said.
Activities in the Tsolho (in Chinese, Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern China’s Qinghai province included “hoisting prayer flags, going on picnics, holding horse races, and burning juniper branches as offerings at sacred mountain sites,” a Tibetan living in the area told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Monday.
Offerings were also placed discreetly before images of the exiled spiritual leader, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Tibetans cannot openly celebrate the birthday of the Dalai Lama, but engaging in any cheerful activity is the most viable way of covertly marking the occasion,” he said.
The Dalai Lama, who turned 79 on Sunday, is reviled as a dangerous separatist by Chinese authorities, who routinely accuse him of trying to “split” Tibet away from China even though he says that he accepts Chinese rule and wants only to secure a “meaningful autonomy” for the Tibetan people that protects their religious, language, and cultural rights.
Speaking on Sunday in the Indian region of Ladakh, where he has been conferring the Kalachakra empowerment and religious teachings, the Dalai Lama greeted and thanked well-wishers around the world on the occasion of his birthday.
“People of Ladakh, Tibetans and visitors from abroad are making prayers for my well-being,” he said, adding,“ You are joined by many others who are not here, especially people in Tibet who have a special connection with me, many of whom are not allowed to express their faith and support.”
“In Mongolia, Russia and Taiwan, and even quietly in mainland China, I believe celebrations are taking place. I thank everyone taking part,” he said.
In Tibetan areas of western China’s Sichuan province, however, authorities tightened restrictions ahead of the birthday, banning public gatherings of more than three families, deploying security forces in market areas, and blocking access to the popular online social network WeChat, sources said.
“The Chinese suspect that Tibetans might celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday in Lithang [Litang] county,” in Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a Tibetan living in exile told RFA’s Tibetan Service, citing local sources.
“So two days before the birthday, Chinese authorities issued a decree banning public gatherings of more than three Tibetan families,” Tulku Jamyang, a native of Lithang now living in India, said.
“There has also been an unusually heavy deployment of Chinese security forces in market areas and in the streets all over Lithang county, and even the nomadic areas have not been spared,” he said.
“The security clampdown has severely restricted people’s movements,” he added.
Meanwhile, on July 3, access to the popular social networking site WeChat was suddenly blocked in the Kardze counties of Kardze (Ganzi), Serthar (Seda), Tawu (Daofu), Draggo (Luhuo), and Dege (Dege), another local source said.
“Even the telephone lines have been affected,” he said.
“Local Tibetans believe the Chinese have deliberately blocked the communication channels to prevent Tibetans inside Tibet from hearing the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra teachings,” he said, adding however that in Qinghai’s Tsolho prefecture, “the Internet lines have been working fine.”
“However, Tibetans in Tsolho who visited temples on the occasion of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday are being closely watched,” he said.
Speaking in Dharamsala, India, seat of Tibet’s exile government the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), exile political leader Lobsang Sangay meanwhile expressed his government’s “deepest reverence and respect for His Holiness the Dalai Lama on behalf of all Tibetans in and outside Tibet.”
“We join millions of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s admirers across the globe in wishing him good health and long life,” Sangay said in a CTA statement on Monday.
The CTA will now observe the present year as the “Year of the Great 14th Dalai Lama,” with 21 major events and hundreds of smaller activities planned in “appreciation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s great accomplishments for the cause of Tibet and the promotion of peace, inter-faith harmony and humane values throughout the world,” Sangay said.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 131 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Lumbum Tashi, Passang Tsering, and Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.