Hundreds of Tibetans protest over two days in restive Lithang county

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Eyewitnesses report severe beatings and detentions

Tibetan monks, laypeople and nomads have staged the largest protest (1) to have taken place in Tibet since last Spring, according to reports received by Free Tibet. The protests, which involved hundreds of Tibetans. took place in Lithang county in eastern Tibet yesterday and on Sunday and were prompted by the arrest of a Tibetan who had publicly called for Tibetans not to celebrate the traditional new year holiday of Losar. At least 24 Tibetans have been reported to have been detained as a result of the protests.

Protest on 15 February

The first protest took place at about noon local time on Sunday 15 February. Lobsang Lhundup (2), 37, began shouting slogans on the junction of the White Crane Road (3) and the main vegetable market in Lithang county city. According to two separate sources, Lhundup shouted “Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama” and “No Losar (4) this year” as well as demanding the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. The sources reported that Lhundup was swiftly joined by more Tibetan protesters. One source reported a total of about one hundred protesters and the other source reported between 150 and 200 protesters. Both sources stated that the protest lasted for about one hour before about 100 police and Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials arrived at the scene of the protest. Eyewitnesses told the sources that the armed police used batons and rifle butts to beat the protesters, many of whom were badly bruised and bleeding as a result of their injuries. Both sources reported that Lobsang Lhundup was detained and taken to the Lithang County PSB detention centre.

Both sources told Free Tibet that Lobsang Lhundup staged his protest on 15 February which is the first day of the Shagtor Festival. The festival, which is associated with ceremonies marking the Tibetan New Year, Losar, is traditionally observed at the local Lithang Gonchen monastery. Both of Free Tibet’s sources commented that the authorities did not detain any of the protesters other than Lobsang Lhundup on 15 February for fear of antagonising the local population, particularly during the Shagtor festival.

The sources also reported that later that evening 28 Tibetans, led by Lobsang Tsering (head of Kyemo village) went to the Lithang County Administration Office to demand the immediate release of Lobsang Lhundup. According to both sources, the authorities agreed to the release of Lobsang Lhundup but on the strict condition that Lobsang Tsering sign a letter urging Tibetans to celebrate the upcoming Tibetan New Year (3) and criticise the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Dalai Lama for calling on Tibetans not to celebrate the New Year. Lobsang Tsering refused to sign the letter according to the sources, and Lobsang Lhundup remains in detention, according to the sources. Lithang and Kandze have been tense for months (for full details see note 6).

Protest on 16 February

Sunday’s protest was followed by a much larger protest in the same location the next day. Both sources reported that the protest of 16 February started in the morning when 14 Tibetans, including relatives of Lobsang Lhundup, started shouting slogans: “Free Tibet”; “Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama”; “Don’t celebrate Losar” and “Release Lobsang Lhundup”. Three of Lhundup’s relatives have been named by the sources as: Sonam Tenpa, 29; Jampa Thokmey, 30; and Lobsang Tenzin, 23. The protesting Tibetans were quickly joined by between 300 and 400 Tibetans, according to both sources. The protest did not last long before it was violently put down by large numbers of armed police wielding batons and rifle butts. Both sources reported that the relatives of Lobsang Lhundup were beaten especially forcefully and that two bodies were seen being carried away by the police. Unconfirmed reports stated that the bodies were those of Jampa Thokmey and Lobsang Tenzin. The sources were not able to confirm whether the two bodies carried away were dead or not.

The sources reported that a total of 23 Tibetans (please see note 5 below for a list of those detained) were detained and have been taken to the Tsaka PSB detention centre, 6km from Lithang county city, as the Lithang county PSB detention centre was full.

Tense atmosphere in Lithang county city on 17 February

On 17 February the Lithang County Administration Office summoned Tibetan lamas and government officials to a meeting. The meeting started at 10am and did not finish until 4pm. It is not known what was discussed. According to both sources, all shops and restaurants in Lithang county city were ordered by the authorities to close on 17 February. Armed police were reported to be patrolling the nearby Kyemo village, from where many of the protesters came. The sources reported that the police were arresting Tibetans whose clothes were spotted with blood and who were thought to have taken part in the protest.

Lithang county and Kandze Prefecture have been one of the most restive areas in Tibet in recent years and have suffered particularly harsh crackdowns as a result by the Chinese authorities (6).

Director of Free Tibet, Stephanie Brigden, said:

“These latest verified reports confirm all the concerns that we have been constantly raising with the British government and other bodies. Lithang is just one of many areas in Tibet which the Chinese government has under total military lockdown. To avoid the excessive abuses and killing of protesters that we saw last year, international leaders and bodies must publicly demand a reason from the Chinese leadership for the build-ups and insist upon their immediate removal.”

Ends

Notes to Editor:

The protests, which have also been reported by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), took place on February 15 and 16 in Lithang county in the Kandze (Chinese: Garze) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP). Kandze is in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham (Chinese province: Sichuan). Free Tibet has received verified reports of the protests from two separate sources. Those sources have been in contact with multiple eyewitnesses to both the protests. The eyewitnesses also saw the Chinese authorities beating the Tibetan protesters with truncheons and rifle butts.
Lobsang Lhundup is from Upper Kyemo village in Lithang county and is the son of Kunjen (father) and Lobsang Dolma (mother).
“White Crane Road” is the English translation of the Tibetan name for the road.
Losar is the traditional Tibetan New Year Festival. It is due on 25 February but the Tibetan Government in Exile has called on Tibetans not to celebrate the New Year as a symbolic act of mourning for all those Tibetans killed last year in China’s brutal crackdown on Tibetan protesters after protests swept across the Tibetan Plateau.
17 Tibetans from Kyemo village were detained. Three are unidentified and 14 have been named as: Sonam Tenpa, 29; Jampa Thokmey, 30; Gelek Kunga, 26; Lobsang Tenzin, 23; Lobsang Phendey, 37; Jampa Yonten, 30; Sangye, 29; Jampa Tsering, 28; Lobsang Wangchuk, 30; Lobsang Tashi, 21; Gendun Choephel, 30; Dargye, 37; Gedhun, 29; Jampa, 40; Amdo Gyaltsen, 41.

- Dadul Gonpo and Trinley Dhondup from Dekye village.

- Two Tibetan females, Yanglo and Dolma, from Sakor village

- Two more Tibetans who have not been identified.

The Kandze region of eastern Tibet (Chinese province: Sichuan) has witnessed some of the largest Tibetan demonstrations against Chinese rule in recent years. On April 3 2008 Chinese armed troops opened fire on unarmed protesters at Tongkor township, killing at least 8 Tibetans according to eyewitnesses. Protests continued through to June of 2008, long after the authorities had succeeded in putting down protests in other areas of Tibet. Lithang was rocked by protests in 2007 after a Tibetan nomad, Runggye Adak, made a public demand in front of thousands of Tibetan nomads at the Lithang Horse Festival for the return of the Dalai Lama. The county was flooded with troops in order to quash further protests. Free Tibet reported last year a huge military build-up in Kandze and Lithang (for full details please see the web link: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/180808).

As well as building up huge troop levels in Lithang and Kandze, the Chinese authorities have also conducted a purge of monasteries and nunneries in the region, setting out punitive measures for monks and nuns who refuse to confess their alleged guilt in taking part in recent protests (for full details see the weblink: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/28-july-2008

For further information:

Matt Whitticase, External Communications:
t: +44 (0)20 7324 4605 (o) / +44 (0)7515 788456 (m)
Or e-mail matt@freetibet.org

Stephanie Brigden, Director:
t: +44 (0)20 7324 4605 (o) / +44 (0)7530 528264 (m)Matt Whitticase: +44 (0)20 7324 4605 / +44 (0)7515 788456