Hundreds of Tibetans Detained in Chamdo Over 'Unity' Campaign

Chinese flags fly at a Tibetan monastery in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Chinese authorities have cracked down on a grassroots Tibetan unity campaign in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), detaining hundreds found wearing special armbands or carrying photos of a senior religious figure backed by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, sources said.

The crackdown further tightens controls in the TAR’s Chamdo (in Chinese, Changdu) prefecture, where the Chinese authorities have launched what some sources call an intrusive campaign to identify and monitor the political views of villagers.

The detentions were triggered when police stopped three Tibetan truck drivers transporting firewood at about 2:00 a.m. on Jan. 2 in Chamdo’s Karma town, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week.

“The three were found to be wearing ‘unity’ armbands and in possession of photos of the Panchen Lama, and were detained,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Two days later, about 50 Chinese police officers in 13 vehicles arrived in Chamdo’s Damthok and Tsala villages, he said.

“They searched the local residents and detained about 480 Tibetans who were wearing unity armbands and took them to the Karma town center, where they have been held in extremely harsh conditions.”

No further word has been received on the condition of those being held, and it is unclear whether any have yet been released.

Photos banned

Photos of the Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima—the second-highest religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism—are strictly banned by Beijing, which took the six-year-old boy into custody together with his family in 1995 following his endorsement by the Dalai Lama.

A Beijing-backed Panchen candidate, Gyaincain (in Tibet, Gyaltsen) Norbu, is widely rejected by Tibetans as a fake.

Chinese authorities, who routinely suppress public assertions of Tibetan national or cultural identity, have also now banned the “unity” armband, a second Tibetan source told RFA.

“But the Tibetans argue that expressions of ethnic unity are not a crime and are protected by China’s constitution,” he said.

Meanwhile, authorities in Chamdo’s Pashoe (Basu) county have forbidden monks at a local monastery from using WeChat, a popular application on mobile phones, another local source said.

Though authorities describe the social networking tool as a distraction from the monks’ studies, they really fear its use in “sharing photos and messages about local incidents with outside contacts,” he said.

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the area in 2008.

A total of 125 Tibetans have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom since February 2009, with another six setting fire to themselves in India and Nepal.

Reported by Kunsang Tenzin, Dolkar, Yangdon Demo, and Soepa Gyatso for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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