Chinese authorities in Tibet have restricted the display of photos of the Karmapa Lama, confiscating them from monks and warning drivers not to carry them in their vehicles, according to sources in the region.
The Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and one of Tibet’s highest-ranking religious figures, escaped from Tibet into India in 2000. He has since established himself in exile, and is considered close to Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
“Tibetans in Shankou, in the area of Chamdo, were ordered last year not to keep photos of the Karmapa Rinpoche,” said a Tibetan man who recently arrived in Nepal from Tibet.
“Earlier on, Tibetans in many parts of the country were told they are not permitted to keep photos of the Karmapa.”
“In the Luguk neighborhood of [Tibet’s regional capital] Lhasa, some monks had hung photos of the Karmapa around their necks as amulets,” the man added. “Police took them away from them.”
“The Dalai Lama has called the Karmapa a highly respected Rinpoche,” the man said, using the honorific term for a venerated spiritual teacher. “Because of that, Tibetans in Tibet see hope for Tibet’s future in him.”
Separately, a source said that drivers transiting Tibet often carry photos of the Karmapa, now in his mid-20s, in their vehicles.
“I heard that security forces have strictly ordered them not to carry them,” the man said.
Attempts to reach officials in Tibet for comment were directed to an automated message, blocking the calls.
Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University, called the restrictions “surprising, because official Chinese policy is that the Karmapa can return [to Tibet] at any time.”
“It’s not totally inconceivable that there may be two policies: ‘He can come back, we are not condemning him publicly. But you are no longer allowed to have pictures.’”
Only public display and not private possession may be restricted, though, Barnett said, adding that reports of confiscations may have resulted from the actions of local officials.
“But that’s unlikely if you’re getting it in Lhasa, and getting it in more than one place,” Barnett said.
“That already indicates that something more significant is happening.”
Originally reported by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Benpa Topgyal. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.