DHARAMSALA—Local people supported a protest by two monks in a Tibetan area of Sichuan province Thursday, helping them escape identification and arrest by Chinese police.
The monks took to the streets of Lithang (in Chinese, Litang) at 11:00 a.m. on Aug. 12, carrying the Tibetan national flag and a picture of the Dalai Lama.
They made rounds around the town’s main marketplace and shouted slogans in support of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan exile leader, before avoiding arrest with the help of local people.
“Due to heavy noise of motors and traffic in that area, only the people around the market place were able to hear the monks shout ‘Long Live the Dalai Lama.”
“After some time the police arrived at the scene, but the local Tibetans who were gathered there in large numbers covered the two monks so the Chinese police were not able to identify them or make any arrest,” a source who has contacts in Lithang said.
The monks’ protest occurred close to the three-year anniversary of an incident at the town’s annual horse festival that sparked a week-long standoff with police in August 2007.
Authorities banned the Lithang Horse Festival again this year, as they have done every year since the incident.
The festival is an annual gathering including a horse race that used to draw 50,000 spectators and participants from across Tibetan areas.
Local authorities have spread word asking for the two monks’ surrender, but so far no arrest has been made.
“The Chinese police, without making any public announcement, are trying to spread the message through word of mouth asking the monks to surrender voluntarily."
"They say that if they voluntarily surrender themselves, the future will be good,” the source said.
Staff who answered the phone at the Lithang police station confirmed the incident but refused to give details.
A Lithang resident confirmed that the monks have not yet been identified or detained.
Incident in 2007
At the festival in 2007, Rongyal Adrak, of the Yondru nomadic group, grabbed a microphone from a Chinese official on stage and made a speech in support of the Dalai Lama, calling for Beijing to allow the exiled spiritual leader’s return to Tibet.
Part of his speech was caught on video and spread online by overseas Tibetan rights groups.
He was immediately taken into custody and later sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted on charges of “seeking to split the country and subvert state power.”
His detention sparked a week-long protest of more than 5,000 Tibetans who demanded his release, the right to hear teachings by the Dalai Lama, and the release of political prisoners including Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.
Two thousand police and military personnel were called in to quiet the protest. The protesters, many of them nomads who had gathered in Lithang for the festival, withdrew only after local Tibetan leaders begged them to do so.
Authorities promptly launched a “patriotic re-education” campaign and posted Tibetan officials away from the area.
Chinese authorities have also delayed the release of two men arrested in connection with the incident that occurred at the 2007 festival.
Authorities had previously announced that Jamyang Tenzin, a monk from a nearby monastery, would be released on August 3.
But later the authorities told people from his village not to expect his release before October, prompting resentment among locals.
He was detained in October 2007 after opposing the re-education campaign that followed the protests at the horse festival.
In a related case, Jarib Lothog, a nomad, was expected to be released for good conduct a month before his prison term expires on September 3, but is currently still held in prison.
Jarib Lothog was detained in August 2007 and later convicted on charges of being an accomplice to espionage after he allegedly helped provide photos of Rongyal Adrak’s speech to groups overseas.
Original reporting by Righden Dolma. Translations by Karma Dorjee and Rigdhen Dolma. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.