The Chinese authorities have attempted to block communications in Tawu in eastern Tibet after police opened fire on Tibetans peacefully celebrating the Dalai Lama’s 78th birthday on July 6, injuring at least ten people. Other Tibetans detained were tortured in custody. Social media networks and mobile phone connections have been affected as officials seek to prevent information reaching the outside world from the area.
Two Tibetans were shot in the head and at least eight others seriously injured after police opened fire at unarmed Tibetans who had gathered for a picnic and to offer prayers at a sacred mountain in Nyitso, Tawu, (Chinese: Dawu/Daofu), Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (in the Tibetan area of Kham) in Sichuan on July 6. At least 16 Tibetans were tortured and beaten after being detained by armed police, according to exile Tibetan sources. Graphic images emerged of the head wounds of one of the Tibetans while he was being treated in hospital but while Tibetan sources say the two shot in the head are still alive, no further information is known about their current condition (ICT report, Tibetan monks shot as police open fire on Tibetans praying on Dalai Lama’s birthday).
Bhuchung Tsering, Interim President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The decision to use such lethal force upon a peaceful gathering of Tibetans in Tawu participating in a religious ceremony on July 6, 2013 reveals the dangerous culture of impunity that exists in Tibet under Chinese rule. The International Campaign for Tibet urges the Obama Administration to raise this issue during the upcoming human rights dialogue with the Chinese Government and ask for an objective investigation. The international community, particularly the European Union, also must express its abhorrence of this act.”
Further details have been pieced together of circumstances leading up to the incident. According to Lobsang Jinpa, a Tibetan from Tawu now in exile in India, prayers for the long life of the Dalai Lama began on July 6 early that morning at Nyitso monastery. But armed police then stopped local Tibetans from conducting sangsol, a Tibetan Buddhist ritual of burning incense and juniper leaves to mark important occasions, by surrounding the mountain, Machen Pomra, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala, India (TCHRD, More injured by gunshots than earlier reported in Tawu).
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Faced by the armed police, local people then joined monks and nuns at another grassland area nearby, and images of the scene depict families, monks and nuns gathered under brightly-colored umbrellas for a traditional picnic and festive occasion. Tibetans made offerings and draped khatags (white blessing scarves) over an image of the Dalai Lama.
When Tibetans began to make their way back after the completion of the religious ceremonies for the Dalai Lama, they were confronted by armed police at a bridge leading to the road. An image received from inside Tibet depicts the contingent of troops lined up with riot shields on the bridge facing Tibetan laypeople and monks leaving the grassland area.
According to various Tibetan sources, some of the police smashed the car windows of monk Jangchup Dorjee, the brother of nun Palden Choetso who had set fire to herself and died on November 3, 2011 (ICT report, Tibetan nun self-immolates in Kardze: continued resistance despite Chinese crackdown). A dispute began between Tibetans and the armed police, and a prominent Tibetan Rinpoche and other senior monks attempted to resolve the situation peacefully.
According to one exile Tibetan source, it had almost been resolved, when orders were given by the head of the police to use force and open fire. Lobsang Jinpa, a Tibetan from Tawu who is now in exile, named Tsering Norbu, a leader of the People’s Armed Police contingent, as the person who had given the orders.
The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported: “Khen Rinpoche [the abbot] told him [Tsering Gonpo, Chinese: Cireng Gongbao] to be mindful of his high official status as a county People’s Armed Police officer andnot to escalate the tension as it would only result in more suffering to local Tibetans,” a local source in Tawu told TCHRD. Khen Rinpoche reminded the PAP officers about simmering tension in Tawu, which could blow out of control at any moment if care was not taken to calm tension.”
A Tibetan in exile who spoke to one of the sources said: “[After they opened fire] people were screaming and running everywhere. More than ten people were injured by gunshot. Motorbikes and cars belonging to local people were damaged by police and confiscated. Monks from Nyitso monastery were running backwards and forwards to carry every single person who was hurt to the local hospital.”
Following the incident around 20 Tibetans were detained. Later that day, a crowd of hundreds of Tibetans gathered to protest against the use of force and to call for the release of Tibetans from detention. They stayed in the streets until late evening. The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported that the protesters informed the authorities of their decision to withdraw their children from Chinese government-run schools, to boycott farming, and to block all traffic movement in Tawu County if their demands were not met. TCHRD sources also reported other protests in eight different locations in Tawu; these protests were mainly staged by nuns and lay Tibetans. Local Tibetans and nuns from Geden Choeling Nunnery, Ngagong Nunnery, and other nunneries in their area also organized protests.
The next morning, more than 20 people who had been detained the night before were released. According to several sources, they underwent torture in custody. A man in his forties had several ribs broken, one woman in her mid-forties had her leg broken, and one young man has since lost his hearing following beatings while in custody.
Images of wounds apparently caused by shooting or using some form of riot control devices at close range circulated among Tibetan exiles from the region. Two images depict a hole gouged out of the left hand side of the skull of one of the Tibetan men, a monk. He has been named as Tashi Sonam from Nyitso monastery. Another picture depicts a man with a number of what appear to be bullet-shaped wounds, possibly from rubber bullets, in his back. Police also used tear gas. Due to efforts made by the Chinese authorities to prevent information reaching the outside world, it was not possible to verify details of the welfare of those injured, nor was it possible to specify exactly which type of devices were used to cause the injuries depicted.
According to the same Tibetan sources, medical costs are being borne by Nyitso monastery and local people, although officials in Tawu offered to pay for the hospital treatment. Local people have refused their offers of compensation, demanding a sincere apology instead.
Tibetans in the area are known for their strong sense of Tibetan identity and since 2008, security forces in Tawu have responded harshly to peaceful expressions of dissent and gatherings of Tibetans for cultural and religious purposes.
In 2011, security personnel were deployed at the same location as the shooting in Tawu to prevent peaceful celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and thousands of Tibetans were stopped from making offerings at a holy mountain during the early hours of the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Even so, images emerged depicting plumes of incense smoke, burnt as an offering for the well being of the Dalai Lama, arising from houses on a hillside in the area on the birthday of the exiled religious leader that year (ICT report, Powerful images of Dalai Lama’s birthday celebrations in Tibet).
A senior religious figure from Tawu who is now in exile said in an interview in 2011: “[In 2011], there was a very big plan to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Many Tibetans went to the holy mountain near Tawu and burned incense. It was said that around 30,000 or more Tibetans gathered. The district government found out about this gathering, and stood in front of the people. The Chinese army blocked the road over the bridge near the river and demanded that the Tibetans stop. The Chinese district governor came out in front with a pistol and told the army, ‘Today, if Tibetans do any protesting, immediately kill them. I give you one hundred per cent permission.’ After the Dalai Lama’s birthday, the Chinese government cut off the water supply to the monasteries. Six times the monks went and fixed the pipes that supplied the town, and every time the Chinese would cut the pipe.” (Blogpost by Gabriel Feinstein Jr. – in collaboration with anonymous Tibetans, The voice of Tawu).
ICT originally reported the name as Tsering Gonpo. However according to new information this is incorrect and the name should be Tsering Norbu.