New images have been obtained by ICT of the moment when a Tibetan nomad, Ronggye Adrag, was arrested after making a statement in support of the Dalai Lama in front of an audience of thousands. The photographs, taken by a foreigner who requested anonymity, capture the moments after Ronggye Adrag stepped down from the stage on August 1, 2007, and was seized by plain-clothes security. Ronggye Adrag was sentenced to eight years in prison and is being held in Mianyang prison in Sichuan.
The photographs, taken three seconds apart, portray a scene of swift intimidation rarely seen by observers outside Tibet. They illustrate how a civil expression of a point of view can be judged by the Chinese authorities as a “crime” that can endanger the security of the state. Ronggye Adrag’s peaceful statement that day were a precursor to the wave of protests against Chinese government policy and in support of the Dalai Lama that swept across Tibet from March, 2008, transforming the political landscape in Tibet.
Subtitled footage of Ronggye Adrag’s protest at the Lithang Horse Festival in Kham, eastern Tibet (present-day Sichuan province) was made public by ICT and can be viewed at: Bold public expression of support for the Dalai Lama that led to imprisonment of Tibetan captured on video.
Ronggye Adrag, a 56-year-old Tibetan nomad, had taken the microphone during the opening ceremony, attended by military and other dignitaries. The English translation of the few seconds featured in footage obtained by ICT 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 Ronggye Adrag also called for the Dalai Lama to return home to Tibet. An eyewitness said: “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.”
The new images show Rungyye Adrag in the centre of a crowd of uniformed and plain clothes police and ordinary Tibetans, with a backdrop of a Tibetan marquee and red Communist Party flags. He has been grabbed by a man in a white shirt with a black armband, who could be either plainclothes police or a type of citizen monitor, responsible for maintaining public order. The images seem to depict him translating for a Chinese plainclothes security official. A Tibetan policeman, cap askew, has placed his hand on the shoulder of the man in the white shirt almost as if to restrain him. The intense expressions on the faces of Tibetans in the crowd around Ronggye Adrag, including monks and young children, are indicative of an understanding about what is happening.
Soon after the images were taken, Ronggye Adrag was taken into custody. In response, local Tibetans and nomads in the area crowded into the courtyard of the police station to protest his detention before being dispersed by police. Several days afterwards, Tibetans encamped outside the town 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: New images confirm dispersal of Tibetans by armed police after Lithang protest: Runggye Adak’s relatives taken into custody’s relatives taken into custody).
There are fears for Ronggye Adrag’s health and that of his nephew Adrag 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’. Ronggye Adrag’s family has only been able to visit him once in the past three years, according to the International Support Network.
Following their sentencing, Ronggye Adrag and Adrag Lopoe were held at an undisclosed location in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) county in Sichuan province. According to reports from Tibetans in touch with others in the area, Ronggye Adrag is now being held in Mianyang prison, located in Wujia Township in Mianyang Prefecture around 100km (62 miles) northeast of Chengdu, and which according to reliable sources uses prisoners to work its affiliated Xinkang Asbestos Mine. Lupoe may also be held in Mianyang, and another nephew of Ronggye Adrag, Adrag Kalgyam, sentenced to five years soon after his uncle, may be imprisoned in Mianyang too, although that could not be confirmed.
Adrag Kalgyam was detained on October 3, 2007, two months after his uncle was detained at the horse festival. According to information published by the UK-based Free Tibet organization, Adrag Kalgyam was detained after he shouted “Long live His Holiness [the Dalai Lama]” and “We want His Holiness to return to Tibet” during a “patriotic education” session in his home area of Lithang on October 2, 2007. The authorities were prevented by local people from detaining him at the meeting itself, according to the same sources, but he was arrested the next day. Adrag Kalgyam was sentenced to five years in prison for “splittism” according to the same Tibetan sources.
Twenty-seven year old Adrag Kalgyam, from Kashul Village in Lithang county, is the youngest of seven brothers and is married with two daughters. He had studied in Drepung monastery in South India for three years before returning to Tibet in 2001.
Respected Tibetan teacher Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche also held in Mianyang Prison The respected and popular religious teacher Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, detained in 2002, is also imprisoned in Mianyang prison in Mianyang, Sichuan province, according to reliable reports from Tibetans in contact with people in the area. Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche whose life sentence was later reduced to a fixed term of 20 years – was transferred to Mianyang from Chuandong prison, and is reported to be in poor health. He is currently suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease and problems with his legs. Though he is apparently receiving medical treatment he has been denied Tibetan medicine that he has requested. (See ITSN report, http://www.freetibetanheroes.org). There have been ongoing protests and high tension in Nyagchuka (Chinese: Yajiang) and Lithang (Chinese: Litang) counties, which neighbor Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) county to the south, due to the continued imprisonment of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche. He oversaw a religious revival among the communities in his area, and also established schools, old people’s homes and religious institutions while advocating close and cooperative community ties with local authorities.
Since at least May 2007, thousands of people in Nyagchuka county and beyond have signed petitions in support of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche. Security has been stepped up in his home area in the Tibetan area of Kham, part of present-day Sichuan province, and dozens of Tibetans were detained and beaten in the area in December, 2009, after peaceful demonstrations calling for his retrial and release. Increased numbers of armed police and troops have been stationed in towns and villages where protests occurred – in an area that is already tense since demonstrations against Chinese rule spread across Tibet in March 2008. Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche has told visitors that he has never admitted to any of the crimes he was accused of committing, and was wrongly accused and imprisoned.