Police in western China’s Sichuan province have ramped up their enforcement of a ban on photos of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, arresting a further 53 Tibetans found with the prohibited images in their homes last week, Tibetan sources said.
The arrests in the Dza Wonpo township of Sershul (in Chinese, Shiqu) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture follows the arrests last month of at least 60 other township residents, bringing to over 100 the total number taken into custody during the campaign.
Following a first raid on Aug. 25, Chinese authorities swept through the town, searching every house, a Tibetan living in India told RFA, citing sources in the region.
“They were looking for pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and for any messages that may have been shared on their cell phones with people outside Tibet,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“And from Aug. 25 to Aug. 29, 53 more Tibetans were arrested,” he said.
Almost all of the Tibetans taken into custody in the recent raids were arrested for possessing photos of the Dalai Lama or for sharing messages and information with contacts outside Chinese-controlled areas, while others were arrested for “discussing social issues in the community,” he said.
Four Tibetans—two laymen, a monk, and a woman—arrested in the first raid were released on Tuesday, but their names and other details about them are still unknown, he said.
Monks from Dza Wonpo’s local monastery over the age 18 are now being summoned in batches of 20 each day to report to police authorities to affirm they have never taken part in political activities and will not do so in the future, the source said. Two members of the monastery’s staff have been assigned to check for compliance, the source added.
“Chinese authorities have been harassing and threatening Tibetans, not just in Dza Wonpo but in many other parts of Tibet,” the source said. “And the only reason they do this is to oppress Tibetans and eventually keep the younger Tibetans unaware of their own religious faith, culture, and identity.
‘A real concern’
“The increasing numbers of arrests in Dza Wonpo are a real concern, and it shocked us today to learn that at least another 50 Tibetans were arrested because they have images of the Dalai Lama, “ said John Jones, Campaigns, Policy and Research Manager at London-based Free Tibet.
“It is not the Chinese Communist Party’s business what Tibetans have on their phones or in their homes,” he said. “The CCP should have learned a long time ago that it’s not going to bully Tibetans either into renouncing their loyalty to the Dalai Lama or into giving up their freedom.”
In January, a Dza Wonpo monk named Tenzin Nyima died of injuries inflicted on him by police while he was being held in custody, Jones said, adding, “We don’t want to see that happen again.”
“We want to see a resolution of these confrontations, and that means the CCP really just has to take a step back and listen to what Tibetans want rather than forcing them to come around to its own point of view.”
Already tightly restricted following widespread protests in Tibetan regions in 2008, Dza Wonpo monastery drew increased police scrutiny in 2012 when monks refused to hoist Chinese national flags on the monastery’s roofs, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Considered a separatist by Chinese leaders, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising against rule by China, which marched into the formerly independent Himalayan country and annexed it by force in 1950.
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.
Copyright © 1998-2020, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.