Herdsmen's New Village

Herdsmen’s New Village

The atmosphere in Lithang, eastern Tibet, is tense and there are fears of a further security crackdown after a local Tibetan nomad, Runggye Adak, was detained after speaking about the Dalai Lama and his concern about social issues in the area to a crowd of hundreds of people gathered for the horse racing festival in Lithang, present-day Sichuan, yesterday (August 1).

Further detentions in the area have been reported, and security stepped up with the arrival of police and military from outside Lithang (Chinese: Litang) in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (the Tibetan area of Kham). According to various reports, many Tibetans congregated to protest about the arrest of Runggye and police had to fire warning shots in the air to disperse the crowds. Several Tibetans have sought the release of Runggye Adak from custody through dialogue with police and Kardze officials.

Fifty-three year old nomad Runggye Adak went up to the stage just before an official function for the annual horse race, a major festival that attracts thousands of people. According to several reports, once onstage he offered a khatag (Tibetan white blessing scarf) to the senior lama of Lithang monastery, took the microphone and began to speak. He said that the Dalai Lama should return to Tibet, and called for the freedom of the Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima (currently in Chinese custody) and Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a senior and respected lama from the area who is serving a life sentence for alleged involvement in bombing offences. He also stressed that the people of Lithang should have freedom of religious belief, and called for local Tibetans to stop fighting among themselves about land and water issues – a reference to fights that have broken out among Tibetan nomads, often following the division of their land by the authorities in accordance with Beijing’s directives.

According to one source, when Runggye was taken offstage by the police, a group of Tibetans tried to negotiate with them, insisting that he hadn’t said anything that was against the law, and only wanted to improve the people’s situation in Lithang.

The same source, a relative of Runggye Adak who is in exile, said: “When he was speaking, I heard that he stressed that he was not saying anything that is against the law. For instance, under Chinese law, people are meant to have religious belief. Everyone in the crowd was shouting their support, particularly when he asked them whether they agreed that His Holiness the Dalai Lama should return to Tibet. He is a deeply religious man and the views he expressed show the strength of his feelings about the welfare of the people in Lithang.”

A report by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy stated that before his arrest, Runggye Adak also publicly criticized a Tibetan monk who is involved with the ‘patriotic education’ campaign at Lithang monastery, and who had apparently been critical of the Dalai Lama. The criticism also met with support from the crowd.

Radio Free Asia reported today that at least 20 more Tibetans had been taken into custody following the incident.

The Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, said today: “Tibetans in Lithang have taken the lead in attempting to resolve the issue through dialogue with police and local officials. A security crackdown is not the answer to such an expression of sincere sentiment, conveyed in a peaceful manner, and supported by the Tibetan people present. This event unfortunately reflects our fear that unless the legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people are addressed, the situation in Tibet may deteriorate.”