New solo protest by young man in Ngaba is part of emerging trend

  • A young man identified as Tashi Dhondup who carried a photo of the Dalai Lama and wore a Buddhist flag on his back while walking along a road in Dzoege, Ngaba on December 19 has been detained and his current whereabouts is unknown, according to reports from Tibetan sources. Tashi Dhondup, whose lone protest was filmed on a video that is circulating on social media, is the most recent in a new trend of lone protests in Tibetan areas where self-immolations have previously been prevalent.[1]
  • The one-person demonstrations are a new trend in the Ngaba area of Amdo, in Sichuan province, the same area where the wave of self-immolations began in 2009 when Kirti monk Tapey set himself on fire. There have also been a number of solo protests in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi), also in Sichuan province, where a number of self-immolations have occurred, demonstrating the continued determination of a young generation of monks and lay people to make strong statements of loyalty to the Dalai Lama. They are doing so despite knowing that they face dire consequences, including life-threatening torture and imprisonment.
  • It is notable that in this different pattern of protests, the young men and women who demonstrated have not harmed themselves. Since the wave of self-immolations – now totaling more than 140 – swept across Tibet from 2009, the Chinese Communist Party has responded with an intensified wave of repression in Tibet, by punishing those allegedly “associated” with self-immolators, including friends, families and even entire communities.[2] The desire to protect families and friends from repercussions may be a factor in the new wave of solo protests compared to self-immolation. Prominent religious leaders in exile such as the Karmapa have urged Tibetans to protect their lives so that they can protect their culture and religion.
  • Most of the solo protesters have called for freedom for Tibet and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, with many holding up images of the exiled Tibetan religious leader or clasping their hands together in prayer. Seven Kirti monks who carried out lone protests this year are of the same generation as many of those who self-immolated, and may have known some of the self-immolators; two have family connections to Tibetans who are already in prison. News emerged in November of prison terms of several years for two of the peaceful solo protesters, both Kirti monks. The current wave of solo protests in Ngaba appears to have begun in 2014.
New protest in Dzoege follows trend of lone protests

Tashi Dhondup

Tashi Dhondup, who demonstrated in Dzoege, Ngaba, on December 19. This image, circulating on social media, appears to have been taken before his protest and shows him holding the image of the Dalai Lama he displayed during his solo demonstration.

News has just emerged of the detention of Tashi Dhondup, a young Tibetan man, who walked along a road in Dzoege (Chinese: Ruo’ergai) county town on Saturday (December 19) wearing traditional Tibetan dress and bearing a photograph of the Dalai Lama, with a Buddhist flag on his back.[3] Footage circulating on social media shows him running and walking along the street bearing the large picture of the exiled religious leader. According to Tibetan sources, he was detained by armed police shortly after the footage was shot and his current whereabouts is unknown. Tashi Dhondhup was born in Thangkor Township, Dzoege County, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Prefecture in Sichuan, the Tibetan area of Amdo.

Tashi Dhondup is the 14th lone protester in Ngaba prefecture documented by Tibetan sources since July (2015). The trend of solo protests has led to an intensified security crackdown in the area; in Ngaba county town, internet service was cut from September 10 for all except government offices, according to Kirti monks in exile and other sources, and surveillance stepped-up in an already oppressive atmosphere.

A Kirti monk living in Dharamsala, India, Kanyag Tsering, said: ‘Many of the self immolators and solo protestors were born in the same areas and are of a similar age, mostly in their twenties. Often they studied at the same monasteries. Some of the solo protesters may have known those who self-immolated, even just as a passing acquaintance.”

A Tibetan from Ngaba who attended the funeral rites for Phuntsog, who set fire to himself on March 16, 2011, said: “These young Tibetans who have protested [in recent weeks] are so determined, and courageous, and it is so good to see that they are not harming themselves [by carrying out self-immolation.]”

Kirti monks sentenced following solo protests

Gendun Puntsok

Kirti monk Gendun Puntsok, sentenced to four years in prison following his solo protest in March (2015).

According to Kirti monks in exile, two monks were sentenced following solo protests in March (2015). At the end of October, Kirti monk Gendun Puntsok, age 18, was sentenced to four years in prison, and was immediately taken to Mianyang prison near Chengdu where most of the political prisoners in Sichuan are held. No details of the trial are known.

Gendun Puntsok had staged a protest in Ngaba county town on March 8 (2015), marching with a portrait of the Dalai Lama wrapped in a yellow khatag (blessing scarf) held to his head and shouting “Let the Dalai Lama return! Freedom and equality for Tibet,” according to the Kirti monks in exile. Gendun Puntsok is from the Chukle Gabma pastoral area in Cha village; he joined Kirti monastery as a child and graduated from the preliminary class last year.

Losang Kelsang

Kirti monk Losang Kelsang, sentenced to three years in prison for his lone protest in March (2015).

On November 2, according to the same sources, Gendun Puntsok’s cousin, 19-year old Kirti monk Losang Kelsang, was sentenced to three and a half years by the same court in Li county, Ngaba prefecture, and taken to Mianyang prison. No more details of the trial are known. Losang Kelsang protested on March 17, on the streets of Ngaba county town, holding up a portrait of the Dalai Lama in one hand and scattering lungta (paper slips printed with prayers) while chanting “Freedom for Tibet!” He is also from Chukle Gabma and joined Kirti monastery at an early age.

There have been 14 solo protests in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture since July (2015), with nine of them taking place in Ngaba county town, which became well-known for its link with self-immolations. The road of the main town from Kirti monastery, one of the most important and influential religious institutions in Tibet, has become known among local Tibetans as ‘Heroes Road’, and oppressive measures have been intensified. The head lama of Kirti monastery, Kirti Rinpoche, who lives in exile in Dharamsala, India, and is still highly respected by monks in Ngaba, says: “The self-immolations emerge from the unbearable oppression imposed by the Chinese authorities and their policies undermining Tibetan religion and culture.”[4]

New information on lone protests in Ngaba is as follows:

  • On October 26, a 31-year old layman named Tashi staged a peaceful protest on the main street of Ngaba county town, marching down the street holding a photo of the Dalai Lama and shouting “Freedom for Tibet! The Dalai Lama must return!” He was arrested by the police on duty and taken away, and is now in detention in the county town. Tashi lives with his wife’s family in the Me’uruma pastoral area, and he and his wife have four children.
  • At about 4 pm on September 23, 15-year old monk Losang Jamyang staged a protest march, along the main road from ‘Heroes’ street (outside the Kirti monastery) towards Ngaba county town, shouting “Freedom for Tibet! The Dalai Lama must return!” He was immediately arrested by the police present there, and taken away. Nothing more is known of his whereabouts. Losang Jamyang is also from the Me’uruma pastoral area and joined Kirti monastery as a child.
  • At around midday on September 10, also according to the Kirti monks, two Tibetans called Trinley and Losang marched down the main street of the county town shouting “Freedom for Tibet! May the Dalai Lama live 10,000 years!” They were arrested and taken away. Both are from Soruma village in Choejema township of Ngaba county, but no further details are known.

Nine solo protests since July including four carried out by young women, with a further protest by a woman in her sixties, are documented in this ICT report: https://www.savetibet.org/wave-of-solo-peaceful-protests-in-ngaba-repression-and-further-restrictions-imposed/#3. Two of the Kirti monks who carried out protests have family connections to Tibetans who are already in prison. Summary details of these protests are as follows:

  • On September 10 (2015), two young Kirti monks carried out separate protests against the Chinese government. Twenty-year old Kirti monk Adrak walked along the main street of Ngaba county town in the morning of September 10 shouting “Freedom for Tibet! May the Dalai Lama live 10,000 years!” He was immediately detained by police. When they beat him severely as they took him away, many Tibetan onlookers began to shout in protest, and some of them were beaten and taken away themselves, according to Kirti monks in exile in Dharamsala, India.
  • At about 6 pm, 22 year old Kirti monk Losang staged a similar protest in the main street. He was taken away by police and his present whereabouts are not known. Losang, who is from the Chukle Gabma pastoral area, joined Kirti monastery at a young age, and is studying in the logic class.
  • At around midday on September 9, a monk from the logic class of Kirti monastery, Jampal Gyatso, 21, protested in the main street of Ngaba county town, holding up a large portrait of the Dalai Lama wrapped in a blessing scarf (khatag) and calling for freedom for Tibet. He was arrested by police immediately.
  • At about 3 pm on September 7, 19-year old Kirti monk Losang Kalsang staged a protest in Ngaba county town, shouting “Freedom for Tibet! May the Dalai Lama live 10,000 years!” and other slogans of protest against the Chinese government. He was taken away by police, and his present whereabouts are not known. Remarkable footage shows him walking along the street with a picture of the Dalai Lama held high. As police move in, they grab the picture, dropping it to the ground, and surround him, dragging him away. As he is taken away, Tibetan onlookers call and whoop in his support.
  • A Tibetan young woman, Wangmo, in her early twenties, was detained after a lone protest on July 15 in Me’uruma village, Ngaba, after she called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom for Tibetans. Her release from custody was reported on July 23 by exile Tibetan sources; an image of her upon release shows her draped in khatags by local people to demonstrate their respect for her actions.
  • Earlier in the same month, on July 2 another Tibetan girl named Tashi Kyi, 20, was arrested by Chinese authorities in Me’uruma. The detention is believed to have been related to some activities, possibly a demonstration, that took place at the 80th birthday celebration of the Dalai Lama in Me’uruma Township. Her current location and welfare are not known.
  • A month later, on August 15, Wokar Kyi shouted “Freedom for Tibet”, “We have suffered too much repression” and “The Dalai Lama must return”, also in Me’uruma town. She was immediately arrested by local police and taken away, and her current whereabouts are not known.
  • At around 8.30 am on August 20, a 29-year old woman named Dorje Drolma staged a protest in the main street of Ngaba county town, walking along the road and shouting slogans against Chinese government oppression. She was immediately detained by around 10 policemen, and her situation and place of detention since then are still not known, according to the Kirti monks in exile.
Lone protests in Ngaba, 2014

Three Kirti monks carried out lone, separate protests in 2014. On April 2, 2014, 20-year old Lobsang Gyatso held a hand-made paper Tibetan flag and called for freedom for Tibet, and the return of the Dalai Lama. He was able to return safely to his monastery, but police raided his room and took him into custody in the middle of the night on April 15 (2014). He was sentenced to three years imprisonment on November 7, 2014, but no further information about him is known.

Nineteen-year old Lobsang Tenpa from Kirti monastery staged a solo protest in the main street of Ngaba county town later that month, on April 26, 2014. He was immediately detained, and later sentenced to two years imprisonment.

Kirti monk Lobsang Tinley, 21, staged a lone demonstration on December 26, 2014 on the main street of Ngaba county town. He was immediately detained and his welfare and whereabouts are not known.

Cluster of lone protests in Kardze

Jampa Sengge

Tibetan protester Jampa Sengge is shown in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy of an RFA listener)

A Tibetan named as Jampa Sengge, age unknown, was taken into custody on November 28 after he scattered leaflets while walking along the main road of the Kardze (Chinese, Ganzi) county seat in the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, according to Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan Service. A Tibetan source told RFA: “While walking in the street, he threw paper flyers in the air calling for the long life and blessings of Gyalwa Tenzin Gyatso [exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama]. After a few minutes, police stationed in the town grabbed him and pushed him down and took him away.”[5] Footage emerged of police attempting to collect all the paper flyers from the ground as Tibetans look on.

In October, 2014, a Tibetan man called Dorje Rinchen, believed to be in his twenties, made a protest in the central square of the Serthar (Chinese, Seda) county seat in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, according to RFA’s Tibetan Service.[6]

“Many witnesses saw him throw leaflets in the air and shout slogans calling for the long life of [exiled spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama and for freedom for Tibet before he was overpowered by police,” a Tibetan source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The detaining officers tied Dorje Rinchen’s hands behind his back, forced his head down, “and took him away, beating him severely at the same time,” the source said.

The same RFA report said that on October 3 (2014), Pasang Wangchuk, a Tibetan businessman and father of three was detained in Kardze prefecture after a solitary protest challenging Beijing’s rule in Tibetan areas, according to sources.

Tibetans in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (in the Tibetan region of Kham) are known for their strong sense of Tibetan identity and nationalism, and the political climate in the region has been deeply oppressive, particularly since 2008, leading to a number of self-immolations, and group and solo protests. The Chinese authorities have noted that their loyalty to the Dalai Lama and strong resistance has made the work of “maintaining public order and safeguarding stability…very arduous.”[7]

Footnotes
[1] There have been 143 self-immolations in Tibet since 2009: see http://www.savetibet.org/resources/fact-sheets/self-immolations-by-tibetans/

[2] Documented in ICT report, ‘Acts of Significant Evil: The criminalization of Tibetan self-Immolations’, http://www.savetibet.org/acts-of-significant-evil-report/

[3] Tibetan protesters have generally displayed handmade Tibetan ‘snow lion’ flags. In this case Tashi Dhondup was photographed with a flag, which is a flag used by Buddhists across the world to symbolize Buddhism. While it was not possible to confirm this directly, there is a possibility that Tashi Dhondup may have wanted to convey a less nationalistic approach in his protest.

[4] See ICT report, September 28, 2015, ‘Wave of solo peaceful protests in Ngaba: repression and further restrictions imposed’,
https://www.savetibet.org/wave-of-solo-peaceful-protests-in-ngaba-repression-and-further-restrictions-imposed/#3

[5] Radio Free Asia report, November 30, 2015, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/solo-11302015142320.html

[6] Radio Free Asia report, October 17, 2014, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/youth-10172014135212.html

[7] ICT report, ‘Ten Tibetans injured after police open fire in Kardze, Tibet’, August 13, 2013, http://www.savetibet.org/ten-tibetans-injured-after-police-open-fire-in-kardze-tibet/

 

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