Protests break out in Tibetan capital against China’s strict Covid restrictions

Residents take to Lhasa streets in largest demonstrations in nearly 15 years.
By RFA Tibetan
Protests break out in Tibetan capital against China’s strict Covid restrictions In this combo of image grabs from citizen videos taken Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, residents protest in a street in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, China. A rare protest broke out in at least two locations in Lhasa, angry over a harsh COVID-19 lockdown in the city, sources in Tibet told RFA Tibetan Service.
Credit: Citizen video

UPDATED at 12:13 p.m. EDT on 11/01/2022

Angry residents in the Tibetan regional capital of Lhasa took to the streets on Wednesday to protest the harsh COVID-19 lockdown that Chinese authorities have imposed on them for more than two months, Radio Free Asia has learned.

They were the first major protests in the city since the 2008 Tibetan Uprising, a series of demonstrations against the Chinese government’s treatment of the ethnic minority group. Chinese police and military forces crushed that uprising, killing dozens.

Videos obtained by RFA show scores of protesters on the streets. A daytime video shows people mostly standing or milling about, with officials in white protective suits standing nearby. In two nighttime videos, crowds and cars block a large street and the crowd surges forward while raising their voices. 

Protesters can be heard speaking both in Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese in the videos, but it's hard to decipher what they were saying.

Sources informed RFA’s Tibetan Service that the protesters warned Chinese officials that they would "set off a fire" if they refused to lift Covid lockdown restrictions, enacted under Beijing’s Zero-Covid Policy. 

The protesters did not specify what they meant exactly, but they might have alluded to self-immolations, more than 150 of which have happened since 2009.

Based on street signs and restaurant names that RFA located on maps, the protesters appeared to be on the street in the “Chakrong” area, in Lhasa’s Chéngguān district in the eastern part of the city, as well as in the Payi area of the city.

One source also told RFA that Tibetans in Lhasa fear that scuffles between civilians and Chinese police could turn violent.

The lockdown in Lhasa began in early August as COVID numbers there and throughout China continued to climb. 

Lhasa residents have said on social media that the lockdown order came without enough time to prepare, leaving some residents short on food, and making it difficult for those infected with the virus to find adequate treatment.

RFA reported late last month that a source inside Tibet confirmed reports on social media that Tibetans in Lhasa were jumping from buildings.

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force more than 70 years ago, and Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers later fled into exile in India and other countries around the world following a failed 1959 national uprising against China’s rule.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment and extrajudicial killings.

Tibetans are not alone in suffering particularly harsh Chinese zero-COVID lockdowns and other restrictions. 

RFA reported last month that at least 22 people died of starvation or lack of medical attention due to China’s COVID lockdown policies in the northern Xinjiang city of Ghulja.

Videos posted by desperate Uyghurs on Chinese social media platforms—and quickly deleted by government censors—show local people under strict zero-COVID lockdowns struggling to access food and medical care, with some saying family members had starved to death.

Translated by Tashi Wangchuk. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that the majority of participants in protests were Tibetan.


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