Tibetan shopkeepers were ordered to hand in images of the Dalai Lama by the county authorities in Draggo, Kardze, an extreme and counter-productive move that was endorsed later by an article in the Chinese state media comparing the Dalai Lama to Saddam Hussein. The orders came just a few days after a prayer ceremony for the Dalai Lama’s health attended by hundreds of Tibetans on January 25.
In an indication of harsher measures imposed by local authorities within the current political climate and the hostile anti-Dalai Lama campaign, as Tibetan New Year (Losar) approached shop-keepers in a county in Kardze (Ganzi), Sichuan, were ordered by authorities to hand over all photos of the Dalai Lama, with ‘severe punishment’ threatened for those who failed to comply by February 2 (2016). In addition, two high-ranking monks from Chogri monastery in Draggo county, named by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy as abbot Pagah and Geshe Orgyen, have been detained apparently in connection with the prayer ceremony held for the Dalai Lama’s health.
The Tibetan New Year period is tense in Draggo due to the anniversary of a violent crackdown by Chinese security forces on peaceful protests by Tibetans on January 23, 2012. At least two Tibetans were killed in Draggo (the Tibetan area of Kham) after police opened fire on unarmed Tibetans the first day of Chinese New Year in 2012. On the anniversary two years later (in 2014), paramilitary police patrolled the streets of Draggo in a major show of force.
While photographs of the Dalai Lama are rarely on display in the TAR, in recent years they have still been visible in parts of Kham and Amdo. But the new ruling, issued on January 4 by the so-called ‘County Comprehensive Culture Enforcement Squad’ in Draggo (Chinese: Luhuo) stated that the photos can no longer be sold or displayed in shops or stores serving the public. A full translation of the orders, which were disseminated in both Chinese and Tibetan, is included below.
Referring to the ban in Kardze, the state newspaper the Global Times cited Lian Xiangmin, of the China Tibetology Research Centre in Beijing, as saying that for Chinese people, hanging his picture was the same as displaying Saddam Hussein’s image would be for Americans.
Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “This latest move by the authorities underscores the desperate attempts of Communist Party state’s attempts to weaken support for the Dalai Lama, both among Tibetans and across the world. Orwellian measures such as the confiscation of images are deeply counter-productive, exposing to the outside world the CCP’s fears over the fragility of its authority. The international community must challenge the Chinese authorities for the actions of officials in Kardze. Comparing Nobel Peace Laureate the Dalai Lama to Saddam Hussein can only weaken China’s tattered diplomatic credibility still further.”
Gou Yadong, director of the provincial publicity department, was quoted as saying in the same article that people were more than welcome to put on show pictures of the China’s past and present leaders, he added, referring to former heads of the Communist Party.
Dalai Lama New Year message
Speaking from Rochester, Minnesota, where he is undergoing prostate treatment, the Dalai Lama made a video message to coincide with the Tibetan New Year period, which begins on February 8. To reassure Tibetans, he said: “I want to tell you that I am doing very well. The treatment only takes a few minutes every day, but it will take time to complete the treatment. It’s nothing complicated, it’s not serious, there’s nothing to worry about.” The Dalai Lama said that he wanted to thank everybody who had “taken the responsibility to do prayers, and performing rituals for my wellbeing.” In the message, the Dalai Lama offered his greetings for everyone at Tibetan New Year, and urged people to act according to the true meaning of the ‘Losar Tashi Delek’ greeting, which is about giving benefit and joy.
Translation from Chinese of the order issued in Draggo (the order was also published in Tibetan):
Notice Issued By the Luhuo [Tibetan: Draggo] County Comprehensive Culture Enforcement Squad Regarding Handing Over of Prohibited Dalai Portraits
To all stores, big and small, in the county
In violation of the current prohibition by our county against any store, whether big or small, displaying or hanging portraits of the Dalai, an investigation has found that they are being displayed.
Based on relevant regulations and advice by those concerned with management of religious work, the portraits of the Dalai are a violation of the prohibition and a seed for spreading protest and so cannot be hung or placed in public marketplaces.
All stores, big and small, are being initially informed in writing that all stores, big and small, having portraits of the Dalai shall, on their own initiative, hand over the prohibited portraits of the Dalai to the County Comprehensive Culture Enforcement Squad before February 2.
All those who hand them over on their own initiative will not be pursued. With respect to those who procrastinate or who do not hand them over, the County Comprehensive Culture Enforcement Squad will confiscate them forcefully and the concerned individual will be strictly dealt with.
Seals of the following offices are below the notice:
Bureau of Religious Affairs
Bureau of Culture, Tourism, Broadcasting and Film and TV
Public Security Bureau
Bureau of Industry and Commerce
 TCHRD report, February 8, 2016, http://www.tchrd.org/abbot-and-senior-monk-detained-for-holding-prayer-for-dalai-lamas-health/ TCHRD reported that Abbot Pagah and Geshe Orgyen were most likely detained in the first week of this month, although the TCHRD source was unable to confirm the exact date. Pagah is almost 40 years old and from Tsogo Township in Draggo County while Geshe Orgyen is about 50 years old and was born in Trehor Township. Also according to TCHRD, both had completed their religious education in south India before returning to Tibet.