KATHMANDU—Dozens of Tibetan middle-school students in the far-western Chinese province of Gansu staged a protest against tight government controls on the second anniversary of a region-wide uprising, according to witnesses.
In the Tibetan regional capital Lhasa, businesses meanwhile defied orders to open for business as usual and observed the anniversary in silence, residents there said.
“On March 14, around 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. … about 30 students from the Tibetan Middle School in Machu [in Chinese, Maqu] protested in streets close to the county center,” one local resident said.
“The student protesters were joined by 500 to 600 [other] Tibetans.”
“They were shouting against the lack of freedom, calling for Tibetan independence,” he added.
The protesters were surrounded by security forces, with at least 40 people detained late Sunday, March 14, sources said.
The detentions sparked fresh anger among local Tibetan residents, who make up more than 50 percent of the region’s population.
“Around 400 or 500 of them were standing in front of government offices and demanding the release of those detained,” the Machu resident said, in an account confirmed by several other local sources.
Several Machu residents estimated that about 3,000 Chinese security forces had been stationed in the area, escalating tensions.
“Some of them shouted for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and demanded resolution of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue,” said Dolkar Kyab, a native of Machu county currently living in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala.
“They managed to protest for about 30 to 4O minutes before they were surrounded by armed police,” he said, citing contacts with local residents.
Dolkar Kyab, a Tibetan researcher, said the students were angered in part by an official rebuff of a planned forum on the topic “Tibetan experiences of joy and sorrow,” as well as a ban on any commemoration of the March 10, 1959 uprising that forced the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, into exile.
An official with the Machu Public Security Bureau (PSB), contacted by telephone, declined to comment on the protest, saying only, “I have no information about that incident.”
A Machu county government official who identified herself as a Tibetan, also contacted by telephone, said, “I know nothing about that story.”
The Machu Tibetan Middle School comprises about 1,500 students.
Most Tibetans in the region are nomads, but they are relatively prosperous, experts say.
Residents joined widespread protests against Chinese rule in 2008, with many arrested and handed stiff sentences.
Shops closed, protests in TAR
“All the hotels and restaurants owned by Tibetans were closed,” he added.
In the Tibetan regional capital Lhasa, under a heavy security clampdown for the March 14 anniversary of a series of protests that spread from Lhasa following a military crackdown, shop owners refused to open for business in protest.
“They were ordered to open their businesses as usual and were told that if they did not open their shops, their display carts would be taken away,” a Lhasa resident said.
“The Tibetans didn’t open their shops and marked the March 14 anniversary in silence,” he added.
“Thousands of security forces including those dressed in black uniform were deployed in Lhasa.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of Tibetans protested on March 10 in Markham county, also in TAR, residents said.
“They demanded compensation for damage to the local environment, animals, and human beings due to mining activities,” one resident said.
“The Chinese authorities attempted to detain some leaders, but at that time some Tibetan youths injured themselves with swords and threatened to kill themselves if any of the Tibetans were detained.”
“The local authorities sought the help of local Rinpoches and Lamas to convince the Tibetans to return home,” the Markham county resident said.
Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas sealed off key tourist areas and Buddhist temples ahead of the sensitive political anniversaries last week, as the Dalai Lama accused Beijing of trying to annihilate Buddhism in the Himalayan region.
In the run-up to the second anniversary of the deadly riots in Lhasa on March 14, 2008, police have slowly built up a huge security presence in the city and surrounding countryside.
Lhasa residents said several hundred plainclothes police officers had been assigned to keep watch on Tibetans in teashops, restaurants, and nightclubs.
“On March 10, 2008, protests in Lhasa marking the 49th anniversary turned violent, and led to protests and unrest throughout Tibet and the majority-Tibetan areas in surrounding provinces,” the U.S. State Department said in its just-released annual report on human rights worldwide.
“Several people have been tried and executed for their involvement in the riots, in which 19 people died, according to official news sources. Various other groups claim a much higher death toll,” it added, alluding primarily to the Tibetan exile government based in Dharamsala, northern India.
The Himalayan region known as Tibet comprises the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as large tracts in China’s western provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, Qinghai, and Yunnan.
Official figures put the number of Tibetans in China at around 5 million, many of whom have chafed for years against Beijing’s rule and the mass migration of majority Han Chinese into the region.
Original reporting by Lhumbum Tashi, Chakmo Tso, and Rigdhen Dolma for RFA's Tibetan service. Director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated from the Tibetan by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.