Authorities in Tibetan-populated regions of western Chinese provinces have launched a new push against possession of photos of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, traveling to remote areas that had previously escaped police attention, Tibetan sources say.
The campaign, which began at the end of April, has targeted Serthar county in Sichuan’s Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, but is also being enforced in other areas of the eastern Tibetan region historically known as Kham, a Tibetan living in Switzerland said.
“Chinese officials have banned the display of Dalai Lama photos in every family home of my native place in Serthar,” former political prisoner Golog Jigme said, citing sources in the county.
“If the Chinese authorities discover the banned photos in any family home, not only will that family be fined, but the land of the village heads will be confiscated,” Jigme said, adding that one Tibetan living in Serthar was recently fined for posting a photo of the Dalai Lama on the popular social media platform WeChat.
The cell phone photo was taken of a portrait of the Dalai Lama kept on the family’s shrine, Jigme said.
Though possession and display of photos of the Dalai Lama, widely reviled by Chinese leaders as a “separatist,” have long been restricted in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in western Chinese provinces, officials are now traveling even to hard-to-reach nomadic areas to enforce the ban, Jigme said.
“Given the difficulty of reaching certain remote areas where there are no motorable roads, Chinese officials have had little influence until now, and the Tibetans have been left to themselves to worship and practice [their religion] as they like.”
“However, beginning at the end of April this year, no parts of Serthar, even nomadic areas with inaccessible roads and little development, have been spared by the Chinese drive to ban the photos of the Dalai Lama,” Jigme said.
Chinese officials from government bureaus monitoring religious practice are also visiting Tibetan schools and warning teachers and students not to keep or display the photos, Jigme said, adding that local Tibetans have also been urged to tell high-ranking Chinese visitors of the “big improvements in their living conditions” owing to government subsidies.
The Dalai Lama, who turned 83 on July 6, 2018, , 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 Sonam Lhamo for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.