Rare footage of Runggye Adak (Tibetan: རོང་རྒྱས་ཨ་གྲགས།), a Tibetan nomad serving an eight-year prison sentence for expressing Tibetans’ loyalty to the Dalai Lama in front of an audience of thousands, is made public this week by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) to mark the third anniversary of the incident. The footage, subtitled in English, shows an extract of Runggye Adak’s bold on-stage statement at the traditional Lithang Horse Festival in eastern Tibet on 1 August 2007, in the moments after he seized the microphone to speak and before he was arrested and imprisoned. To view the footage, click here, or visit www.tibetnetwork.org, the website of the International Tibet Support Network (ITSN). A high resolution version without subtitles can be downloaded here.

New information from Tibet indicates that there are fears for Runggye Adak’s health and that of his nephew Adak Lopoe, a senior monk from Lithang sentenced to ten years, and Tibetan art teacher and musician Kunkhyen, sentenced to nine years, both for attempting to provide pictures and information about the protest to ‘overseas organizations’ which were judged to ‘endanger national security’. It is significant that the two Tibetans allegedly reporting on the event were sentenced to longer terms than the perpetrator, and may have been intended to convey an intimidatory signal to Tibetans about passing on news about unrest or dissent to the outside world, particularly in the run-up to the summer Olympics in Beijing. Runggye Adak’s family has only been able to visit him once in the past three years, according to ITSN, a global coalition of Tibet support organizations worldwide.

Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “This remarkable footage of Runggye Adak attests to the central trespass of the Chinese authorities in Tibet, which is to strike hard and fast against devotion to the Dalai Lama, the embodiment of the unique Tibetan identity. Criminalizing devotion to the Dalai Lama has been the undoing of their efforts to win the hearts and minds of Tibetans and certainly contributed to the anger that erupted in March 2008 in Lhasa and led to a wave of protests spreading across Tibet.”

Three years ago this week Runggye Adak, a 56 year-old Tibetan nomad from Lithang (Chinese: Litang) in Sichuan province (the Tibetan area of Kham) took the microphone at a major horse festival and spoke to a crowd of thousands who had gathered for the opening ceremony. He spoke for several minutes before he was detained by armed police who made their way to the stage. The footage, which was made available to ICT by a foreigner who happened to be at the horse festival does not capture Runggye Adak’s full statement. The English translation of the few seconds featured in footage is as follows:

“…These things have happened to us; did you hear what has happened to us? Although we can move our bodies, we cannot express what is in our hearts. You know? These days there are those who say we don’t need the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is the one that we six million Tibetans truly [need]”

Sources who witnessed the incident report that Runggye Adak also called for the Dalai Lama to return home to Tibet. An eyewitness to Runggye Adak’s protest told ICT: “I saw him walk onto the stage, which was full of Chinese military and officials. He was very calm, very dignified and he spoke clearly. I couldn’t understand what he was saying because I don’t know the Kham dialect, but I could see Tibetans around me shaking their heads in sadness, because they were fearful for him, and others openly agreeing with him.”

Immediately after his detention, local Tibetans and others in the area to attend the summer horse festival crowded into the courtyard of the police station to protest his detention before being dispersed by police. Several days afterwards, Tibetans again gathered, this time outside the town, and were dispersed by riot police using tear-gas and firing guns into the air (images were provided to ICT by a visitor to the area, see ICT report, New images confirm dispersal of Tibetans by armed police after Lithang protest: Runggye Adak’s relatives taken into custody).

An official Chinese statement, dated August 3, 2007, reported that Runggye Adak had been detained “for inciting separation of nationalities”, saying: “The villager named Runggye Adak went to a platform at about 10:00 am Wednesday before the opening ceremony in Litang county, and shouted out words of “Tibetan independence” and stopped vehicles to disrupt public order, according to the sources. The villager was detained by police for being suspected of breaching the law…. The police sources said they would handle the case of Runggye Adak, whose words and deeds were meant to separate the country and harm national unity and has disrupted public order, according to law.” (Xinhua, August 3, 2007)

According to ITSN, Runggye Adak’s family members have only met him and Atruk Lopo once in the past three years. The meeting occurred after 50 people filed a request to local Chinese officials. Rungyye Adak, the father of 11 children, has poor eyesight. The expressions of support among Tibetans for Runggye Adak’s statement at the horse festival led to the launch of an intense “patriotic education” campaign in Lithang and throughout Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Sichuan province (the Tibetan area of Kham). (ICT report, New images confirm dispersal of Tibetans by armed police after Lithang protest: Runggye Adak’s relatives taken into custody).

Since March, 2008, the situation has become even more tense in Lithang following the wave of protests that swept across Tibet. Protests were documented in Lithang in February, 2009, by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy and other organizations (https://savetibet.org/media-center/tibet-news/more-cases-detention-an…).

The footage is a vivid depiction of how a perfectly civil expression of a point of view can earn years in prison in Tibet as a “crime” that China says can endanger the security of the state.

ICT and ITSN call on China to uphold its obligations under international law regarding freedom of belief and expression. We urge all governments and U.N. human rights mechanisms to adopt a systematic approach to vigorously engaging China on its blatant violations of international human rights principles, and to press China to reform its policies in Tibet that seek or induce the obliteration of the Tibetan identity, including those that criminalize devotion to the Dalai Lama. We further urge direct engagement between the Dalai Lama and Chinese leaders to find a solution that leads to peace and the full enjoyment of human rights for all Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China.

The International Tibet Support Network, a coalition of 168 Tibet support groups on six continents, published two appeals for Runggye Adak’s release by his son and nephew, who are both now living in exile. The appeals, which have been uploaded at: www.tibetnetwork.org, follow below.

Statement by Runggye Adak’s son, Jamyang Lobsang

My father, Runggye Adak is innocent because what he said was true and represents the wishes and aspiration of all Tibetans inside Tibet.

Therefore, the family trusts him and will always support him.

The three points he had raised, plus his condemnation of Tibetans fighting with each other [a reference to Runggye Adak’s concern about Tibetan nomads’ disputes over land and other issues following settlement policies] are within the law of the People’s Republic of China.

But the Chinese government saw it differently and sentenced him to eight years.

My family disagrees and condemns the verdict.

He has been in prison for three years now and we all are desperate to meet him.

I hope that he will be released soon.

I want to thank everyone working for his release.

Atuk Tseten: Runggye Adak’s Nephew:

I do not believe that Chinese government will heed the request of Tibetan NGOs and Tibet Support Groups around the world for the release of my uncle, Runggye Adak on the basis that he is innocent.

I say this because Chinese government knows that he is innocent according to law but he was still charged with trying to split the motherland and sentenced to eight years into prison.

But I would like to take this opportunity to reach out to all the people and groups that stand for justice, support innocent and to Chinese people in particular that on August 1, 2007, at the Lithang Horse festival, Runggye Adak was arrested for saying three points that represents wishes and aspiration of all Tibetans inside Tibet.

These are, His Holiness must be allowed to return to Tibet, Tibetans need freedom [of religion] and others and release Tibetan political prisoners, including Panchen Rinpoche and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.

For these words he was sentenced to prison.

Risking their own lives, a large number of Tibetans protested against is arrest.

This shows that the Chinese government’s claim that there is no Tibet issue is false and proves to the world that there is a Tibet issue that needs to be resolved.