HONG KONG—Chinese authorities in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, detained six Tibetans this week after more than 100 gathered and marched in what they told police was an exercise of their right to practice Tibetan Buddhism, authoritative sources said.
Residents say it was the first large public gathering of Tibetans in Lhasa since massive protests against Chinese rule ignited there in March 2008, spreading to three neighboring provinces and prompting a dramatically increased presence of Chinese security forces in the region.
Many of us were detained and it is not easy to give details on the phone."
“It was not a protest but a sangsol,” or a special offering to Buddhist deities, one Tibetan man, a resident of Lhasa, said in an interview. The man said he had been detained for three days, from June 7-10.
“Many of us were detained, and it is not easy to give details on the phone,” he said.
Another source said six Tibetans had been taken into custody for questioning. How many had been released three days later wasn’t clear.
The six detainees were identified as Pedo, Dege Pema Drimey, Dege Phurba, Dege Dokyab, Dege Dorje Tsering, and Nangchen Thubpa.
Blocked and detained
Geshe Monlam Tharchin, a Tibetan based in Dharamsala, in northern India, said he had learned from witnesses that as many as 200 Tibetans gathered early June 7 in traditional Tibetan dress at a market area in Lhasa.
They collected money and made offerings at the city’s central temple, the Jokhang, then walked through the market, past provincial government buildings, and to the Potala Palace, former residence of Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.
“When they reached the courtyard in front of the Potala Palace, they faced the Potala … and shouted for the victory of the deities. They all wore traditional Tibetan scarves. When they tried to go to the Nechung temple, they were blocked by several armed police,” he said.
More Tibetans gathered at around 4 p.m. at the Trumse Khang market area, where they were stopped and questioned by authorities and replied that they were exercising their religious freedom, he said. At that point, six people were detained.
Municipal officials declined to comment.
But an official who answered the phone at the Lhasa Public Security Bureau said, “No one was detained. It was a religious event."
"The People's Republic of China allows Tibetans to exercise their religious freedom,” he said.
June 7 is a notably auspicious date—the 15th day of the fourth month—on the Tibetan calendar.
This year, it was also the day on which Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe conferred a certificate of honorary citizenship on the Dalai Lama at a ceremony in Paris' gilded City Hall. The Paris city council voted last year to make the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang called the move a "gross provocation against the Chinese people ... [that] greatly undermines China-France relations."
Much of Tibet has been closed to foreigners, and first-hand reports of events there have been scarce since protests that began there in March 2008.
The Tibetan government-in-exile in India says about 220 Tibetans died and nearly 7,000 were detained in the subsequent region-wide crackdown. The Chinese government says rioting killed 22 people.
Chinese authorities regard the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising, as the leader of a separatist clique determined to "split" Tibet from China.
The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace laureate, says he wants Tibetans to have greater autonomy within China and the right to preserve their unique culture and religion.
Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.