Armed riot troops take position in Lithang

Armed riot troops take position in Lithang in order to disperse Tibetans gathered a week after the protest at the Horse Festival.

New eyewitness accounts and images of the aftermath of local nomad Runggye Adak’s protest during Lithang horse festival on August 1 confirm that armed police and soldiers dispersed a peaceful gathering of Tibetans with shock grenades, tear gas, and beatings. Runggye Adak’s nephew, a 45-year old monk called Lupoe, has been detained after calling for the release of Runggye Adak, who is still in custody in Lithang after speaking about the importance of the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet to a sympathetic Tibetan crowd of several thousand gathered for the horse-racing festival earlier this month.

Lupoe, who handed himself into police in the last few days, is also now in custody and is reportedly being singled out by local officials as being a ‘splittist’ force behind Runggye Adak’s protest. According to one report, official posters describing Lupoe as a ‘splittist’ element have been posted in Lithang. Two more of Runggye Adak’s nephews, Gyatso and Nyima, were detained from his home village, Yonru Kharshul village in Lithang, Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and held in temporary custody locally. According to two reports, Gyatso and Nyima have now been released.

In the week following the protest on August 1, local television ran reports on the incident, stating that 53-year old Runggye Adak had not admitted to the ‘serious crimes’ he had committed. Following Runggye Adak’s detention, approximately 200 Tibetans gathered in the courtyard of Lithang police station to appeal for his release while several Tibetans went inside to talk to police and Kardze officials. An unusual official statement on Runggye Adak’s case, issued just two days after his detention, confirmed the gathering of around 200 Tibetans, saying that they were “unaware of the facts” (Xinhua, August 3).

The new images, seen below, show armed soldiers marching towards the Tibetans gathered together away from the horse festival grounds, south of the town, a week after Runggye Adak’s detention, and other security personnel with black uniforms gathered on the streets of Lithang (Chinese: Litang) after the event. An eyewitness, who has now left Tibet, told ICT that dispersing the Tibetan crowd who were gathered was a coordinated action by police and army. “First they blocked all the roads leading to the area where the Tibetans were gathered,” said the visitor to Lithang, a tourist who arrived in the town on August 7, and witnessed the incident the next day. “The army was in the meanwhile doing some kind of battle-formations; I could see them swinging their riot-shields and marching up and down. Later all the police cars drove down to the tents. Then the army started to fire tear-gas and hurl shock grenades at the crowd. It also seemed from my position that they were shooting towards the crowd, but it could have been that they were firing into the air, and I didn’t hear later if anyone had been hurt. Closer to where I saw standing, I saw them beating up a Tibetan guy with metal prods. It seemed that they also took him in the police car, but because a huge crowd of Tibetans gathered around him, I was not sure if he was actually taken in the car or not.”

Later four policemen grabbed the tourist and seized his camera, but he managed to keep his film through showing the police some separate images that were not of the crackdown. He was later followed by a policeman in a black balaclava (ski-mask), who intimidated him and warned him to leave the area.

The tourist source said that it was not clear on the ground why the police had launched the crackdown to disperse this particular gathering of Tibetans but it is likely to be related to the concern that has been expressed in the local area for Runggye Adak’s welfare, which included a gathering of Tibetans from his home area after his detention.

A Tibetan who is now in exile and who is connected to events in the area said: “Runggye Adak expressed what every Tibetan feels, but cannot say. You can see that from the reaction of the crowd when he talked about the Dalai Lama’s return.”

The two nephews of Runggye Adak who were reportedly detained earlier this week have now been released after their brother handed himself into police custody, according to reports from the area. Their detention involved more than a hundred police and Public Security Bureau officials arriving in Runggye Adak’s home village. According to a report by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, police had said that they were looking for another nephew, Lopoe, a monk from Lithang monastery, who had apparently been involved in requesting Runggye Adak’s release (TCHRD report, August 22, 2007). When Lopoe heard that they were looking for him, he reportedly handed himself in at a local police station.

Further images on ICT’s website depict the official ceremony which was the venue for Runggye Adak’s protest, and show a Chinese military official watching dances at the ceremony. A second eyewitness, who observed Runggye Adak making his protest, told ICT: “It all happened so fast – Runggye Adak just came onstage and started speaking. Although his voice did not carry very far, because it could have been that they switched the microphone off, I could see Tibetans nodding their heads about what he was saying about the Dalai Lama and freedom. Quite a few people were cheering him. Then a few men came up onto the stage, and it seemed to me that they could have been Tibetans trying to help him, trying to get him offstage so he wouldn’t be in more trouble. But then uniformed officers arrived and I could see them moving through the crowd quickly towards the stage. Many Tibetans tried to block their way to prevent him reaching Runggye Adak, but they had no chance. Quite a lot of people followed him when they took him away, and other people around me were saying how scared they were about his fate.” The same source also said that a Chinese flag that had been displayed on the first day of the horse festival was apparently removed by some Tibetans.

Most of the Tibetan nomads and local people from Runggye Adak’s home area who had been gathered outside the county authorities’ office have apparently dispersed, particularly following the crackdown with tear gas and shock grenades on August 8, although some have said they will return if Runggye Adak, a father of 11 children and a respected figure in his nomadic community, is treated unfairly.

The official Chinese statement, dated August 3, 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 information received by ICT, several weeks earlier, the Chinese authorities had circulated a petition at Lithang monastery for monks to sign saying that they did not want the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, which provoked tension in the area, and resentment towards monks who signed.

Images of the crackdown and the horse festival after the protest are available from ICT – contact [email protected]. All images were provided courtesy of two eyewitnesses and one other tourist in the area at that time.

For further information and an image of Runggye Adak see earlier ICT report, Official petition on Dalai Lama may have provoked Lithang action – August 10, 2007.

Armed riot troops take position in Lithang

Armed riot troops take position in Lithang in order to disperse Tibetans gathered a week after the protest at the Horse Festival.

Dancers at the Lithang Horse Festival

Dancers at the Lithang Horse Festival on August 1, the day that Runggye Adak made his protest.

Masked police in Lithang

Masked police in Lithang during the operation to disperse Tibetans gathered following the protest.

A military official observes the dancing at the Lithang Horse Festival

A military official observes the dancing at the Lithang Horse Festival on August 1, on the day Runggye Adak made his protest.

A convoy of police enters Lithang

A convoy of police enters Lithang before dispersing the Tibetans gathered following the detention of Runggye Adak.

Tear gas canisters

Tear gas canisters and shock grenades collected from the site of the encampment after riot troops dispersed the Tibetans, photographed by an eyewitness.

Police officer with riot helmet

Police officer with riot helmet in Lithang as Tibetans are dispersed.

Tibetans gathered for the Horse Festival

Troops keep an eye on the encampment of Tibetans gathered for the Horse Festival, a week after Runggye Adak’s detention.

A checkpoint on the road to Lithang

A checkpoint on the road to Lithang, set up soon after the protest by Runggye Adak. Travelers were being prevented from turning down the road on the left, which leads directly to Lithang. Names and details of travelers were being taken by police at the checkpoint. Police vehicles are depicted on the left.

Tibetan dancers

Tibetan dancers at the Lithang Horse Festival, August 1, on the day Runggye Adak made his protest.