Tibetans Protest in Sichuan

Chinese security forces have blanketed the region, but Tibetans are still staging small-scale protests.

2009.03.15
tibet-ganzi-305.jpg Chinese People's Armed Police patrol a street in Kangding, capital of the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, March 23, 2008.
AFP

KATHMANDU—Ethnic Tibetans in China's southwestern Sichuan province have defied a massive Chinese security presence to stage small-scale protests against Beijing's rule, coinciding with the anniversary of two major uprisings, local and exiled Tibetan sources say.

The Tibetan sources, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, report small protests and swift detentions in Kardze, Lithang, and Nyagrong counties, all of which fall under Kardze prefecture  in China's rugged and remote Sichuan province.

Their accounts are extremely difficult to confirm because so much of the region has been closed to foreigners since a peaceful protest in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, erupted into a riot a year ago that left at least 22 dead, ignited protests in three neighboring provinces, and prompted Beijing to dramatically increase its troop presence.

A spokeswoman for the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in Kardze [Ganzi, in Chinese], where opposition to China's heavy-handed policies runs high, denied the reports.

"There are no problems. Everything is peaceful and quiet here," the spokeswoman said.

Small protests

But Tibetans in the region and others who are in regular contact with friends and family there tell a different story.

In Kardze town, a local source said, Tibetan youths staged successive protests on March 11-12 and March 14-15. "Since Kardze is flooded with Chinese police and army, it is very difficult to get a complete picture and details about the protests," the source said.

On March 11, three teenage girls—identified as Choetso, 16, Tsering Wangmo, 17, and  a a third girl whose name wasn't known—threw leaflets and shouted slogans calling for Tibetan independence and the return of the Dalai Lama, Yeshe Dorje, a monk from Kardze who now lives in Australia, said.

"The three girls were apprehended by a group of about 50 security personnel, put in a van and removed from the area," he said.

On March 12 and 14, two boys identified as Sonam and Dawa Tsering staged similar protests respectively also in Kardze town, he said.

In Nyagrong county, another source said, three men in their 20s have been detained after publicly setting fire to a pile of secret documents belonging to local authorities. The three were identified as Sonam Gonpo, Thok Thok, and Pema Yeshe, Nyagrong native Ama Ate, who now lives in Dharamsala, seat of the exiled Tibetan government, said.

And in Lithang, a monk identified as Lobsang Wangchuk, 29, from Rawa, protested March 10 with "hundreds of leaflets," another source, a Kardze monk named Loga who now lives in India, said. Lobsang Wangchuk was detained immediately by security forces dressed in Tibetan clothing, he said.

"Lobsang Wangchuk protested in Lithang on March 10, around 3:30 pm. He was planning this for a long time and was waiting for March 10," Loga said.

"He sought permission from his mother, who was very hesitant in the beginning but finally agreed. He carried a photo of the Dalai Lama in his right hand and threw leaflets to the sky."

Lithang was the site of large-scale unrest in 2007 after a nomad, Ronggyal Adrak, called publicly at the annual horse festival for Beijing to allow the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. He was arrested, and hundreds of Tibetans protested for his release.

Thousands of troops descended on the region in the aftermath of the protest, and Ronggyal Adrak was convicted on charges of "seeking to split the country and subvert state power."

Sensitive dates

March 14 marked the first anniversary of the catalyst for last year's violence—a riot in Lhasa, the Tibet region's capital, protesting Chinese rule.

Beijing said 22 people, mostly Chinese civilians, died in last year's rioting in Lhasa and its suburbs, and blamed Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, and his followers. The Tibetan government-in-exile in India says about 220 Tibetans died and nearly 7,000 were detained in the subsequent regionwide crackdown.

Residents of Kardze, part of what Tibetans know as Kham, have earned a reputation for speaking out against Chinese rule, experts say.

Security has meanwhile been tightened in recent months throughout Tibetan areas, in anticipation of unrest during several sensitive dates.

These include the Tibetan New Year or Losar, the 50th anniversary of the failed March 10, 1959, uprising against Chinese rule that prompted the Dalai Lama's flight to India, and the first anniversary of the 2008 protests.

Paramilitary and plainclothes police have maintained tight security throughout the region, announcing a "strike hard" anti-crime campaign coinciding with the period just before and after the anniversaries.

Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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