DHARAMSALA—New protests have erupted in a Tibetan-populated region of China, with armed police using force to disperse demonstrators and detaining at least 13 people, according to Tibetan activists and exiles.
The protests are among the largest yet reported in the run-up to two politically sensitive anniversaries next month in the Himalayan region—of a failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule and of protests in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in 2008 that quickly spread throughout several provinces in western China.
On Feb. 16, according to one Tibetan source, police cracked down on a group of Tibetans after the detention a day earlier of a solitary protester named Lobsang Lundrub in Lithang, in the Kardze [in Chinese, Ganzi] Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China’s Sichuan province.
“He began his protest at 12 p.m. at the vegetable market and reached a place called Trung Trung Ki in Lithang, where he was detained by Chinese Public Security Bureau officials,” Lundrub’s brother Lobsang Choekyab said from Dharamsala, India.
“Some old Tibetan women in the area saw him detained,” he said. “They said that he was severely beaten and was taken away in a vehicle. I was told that he is now detained in the Lithang County Jail.”
Calls to Lithang County Jail during business hours rang unanswered. An officer on duty at the local Public Security Bureau declined to comment, saying, "Without approval from higher up, we are not allowed to disclose any information."
Calls for independence
A group of lay Tibetans and monks led by Lobsang Lundrub’s brother Sonam Tenpa, 29, then gathered next day to demand Lundrub’s release, according to Choekyab and other exiled Tibetans, citing contacts in Lithang.
The protesters carried a photo of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, said South India-based Tibetan monks Serme Loga and Andruk Tseten, speaking in separate interviews.
“They marched on the morning of Feb. 16 in protest in downtown Lithang,” Serme Loga said.
“They called for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and for Tibetan independence … Many residents of Dekyi town in Lithang also joined the protests, including Tibetan officials in the Chinese administration,” he said.
Chinese police then attacked the demonstrators, including “elderly Tibetans who were walking around a nearby temple,” Loga said.
Sonam Tenpa and three other brothers of Lobsang Lundrub were treated with particular severity, Andruk Tseten said, speaking from South India.
“My contact in Lithang told me that the four brothers who protested today [Feb. 16] were so badly beaten that they appeared to be dead when they were put into the vans,” Tseten said.
“Two protesters are thought by the local people to have been beaten to death,” he added. “They are feared to be Lobsang Tenzin and Jampa Thogme, two of the brothers of Lobsang Lundrub.”
Sources identified other Tibetans detained after the protest as Lobsang Yonten, 37; Yonten, 30; Sangye, 29; Jampa Tsering, 28; Lobsang Wangchuk, 30; Lobsang Tashi, 21; Gendun Choephel, 30; Thargyal, 37; Gendun Jampel, 40; and Ando Gyaltsen.
Three women—Dolma, 26; Yangmo, 34; and an unnamed sister of Lobsang Lundrub—were detained and later released, Loga said, adding that Chinese police have now placed roadblocks on Lithang’s major roads to restrict the movements of Tibetans.
Site of protests
Lithang was also the site of large-scale unrest in 2007 after a nomad named Ronggyal Adrak called publicly at a horse festival for Beijing to allow the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet.
He was arrested, and hundreds of Tibetan 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."
Authorities sealed off Tibetan areas last year following a riot in Tibet's capital Lhasa on March 14 that sparked the largest anti-China protests among Tibetans in decades.
Local officials last week confirmed that Western parts of Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai provinces, which have large Tibetan communities, are again closed to foreign travelers.
Original reporting in Tibetan by Dolkar, Tsewang Norbu, and Lobsang Choephel for RFA's Tibetan service and by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Written in English for the Web by Richard Finney. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.