• Tibetans across Tibet celebrated the Dalai Lama’s 81st birthday yesterday by burning incense and praying before his image placed on shrines. Celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday is not permitted in Tibet in the context of a virulent political campaign against the religious leader.
  • In Kathmandu, Nepal, a peaceful celebration by the Tibetan community that was also attended by some foreign diplomats was broken up by Nepalese police in riot uniform. Twenty-eight people, both Tibetans and Nepalese, were detained and held in police custody for several hours.

Peaceful prayer gathering broken up in Kathmandu

Tibetan being detained by Nepalese police

A Tibetan being detained by Nepalese police during the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration in Kathmandu on July 6. (Picture via phayul.com)

Nepalese police arrived in force at the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration held at a school in Boudhanath, Kathmandu yesterday (July 6), even though official permission had been granted by the authorities for the event. Police told Tibetans to leave or risk detention, and detained 28 people including the Tibetan settlement officer Kalsang Dondrub in the nearby police station. A photograph posted online shows a Tibetan being led away by Nepalese police in riot gear from the event. Radio Free Asia reported that police also pulled down large portraits of the Dalai Lama that had been placed in positions of honor on a stage in the school’s courtyard, scattering banners, flowers, and other offerings that had been arranged at the site.[1]

A Tibetan present at the event said: “It was very emotional, some people were crying. This showed a very ugly face of the Nepalese authorities; diplomats who had attended from the international community observed at close quarters how peacefully the Tibetans were celebrating this important religious and cultural occasion, and the outcome.” One of the Tibetan community leaders, Lhalung, was cited by RFA as saying: “The Tibetan representative and other welfare officers sought permission from Nepalese authorities to hold the event, and permission was granted yesterday. But today, they changed their minds and stopped us. This could be a result of pressure from China.”

Following intervention from Nepalese human rights advocates, the 28 people detained were released at around 5 pm. The Nepalese organisation Inhured, the International Institute for Human Rights, Environment and Development, issued a press release condemning the “unconstitutional and anti-human rights” actions of the police (http://inhuredinternational.org/blog).

A young Tibetan living in the Boudha area was cited by phayul.com as saying: “Anyone who is wearing Tibetan dress or monastic robes is being detained in the vicinity. We were merely celebrating the birthday of our beloved leader, it is not political. Besides, the same police were smiling and accepting our help and donations during the earth quake last year when Tibetans and Nepalese people were working together for relief efforts in the aftermath. What was supposed to be a joyous occasion has turned into a sad one.”

In the context of a close relationship with the Chinese authorities, Nepalese police have varied in their tolerance of celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, an important and symbolic occasion for Tibetans. While last year a quiet celebration was allowed to take place, in 2011, several hundred Nepalese police in riot gear were deployed in various areas of Kathmandu on July 6 to prevent Tibetans from celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and they also confiscated pictures of the Dalai Lama and a Happy Birthday’ banner hanging inside a walled courtyard at Samten Ling monastery in the Boudha area of Kathmandu. The year before, in 2010, police set up checkpoints at different locations stopping Tibetans heading for the birthday celebrations.[2]

Tibetans in Kham celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday

Incense smoke rising

Incense smoke rising from homes in Draggo (Chinese: Luhuo), Kardze, as Tibetans quietly celebrated the Dalai Lama’s 81st birthday.

In Tibet, video footage of a prayer ceremony in a monastery in Lithang and images of incense smoke in Draggo were among the low-key celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s birthday observed through monitoring of social media.[3] There are likely to have been many more quiet celebrations across Tibet in people’s homes or at picnics in the grasslands that may not have been recorded on social media due to concerns about repercussions given the restrictive political climate. On the Dalai Lama’s birthday in 2013, two Tibetan monks were shot in the head and several others seriously injured after Chinese police opened fire at a crowd gathered to peacefully celebrate in Nyitso, Tawu, eastern Tibet.[4]

The footage circulating yesterday (July 6) showed monks praying before a table of offerings and large image of the Dalai Lama in Lithang (Chinese: Litang) in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan. Elsewhere in Kardze, an image showed incense smoke rising from homes in Draggo (Chinese: Luhuo).

When asked by an Indian journalist on an official visit to Lhasa yesterday whether he would be celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday, a Tibetan who was unnamed said: “In my heart.”[5] Tibetan intellectuals using pseudonyms posted various poems in honour of the Dalai Lama on social media yesterday, praising his greatness as a leader and gratitude to him.

[1] Radio Free Asia report, July 7, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/celebration-07062016152945.html

[2] ICT report, July 7, 2011, https://www.https://savetibet.org/nepal-stops-dalai-lama-birthday-celebrations-in-kathmandu-updated-july-11/

[3] Uploaded by VOA Tibetan service, at http://www.phayul.com/news/article.aspx?id=37784&article=Police+stop+Dalai+Lama%E2%80%99s+Birthday+celebrations+in+Nepal%2c+30+including+TSO+detained

[4] ICT report, July 8, 2013, https://www.https://savetibet.org/tibetan-monks-shot-as-police-open-fire-on-tibetans-praying-on-dalai-lamas-birthday/

[5] Report by Sutirtho Patranobis, July 7, 2016, Hindustan Times: ‘“In my heart,” the sunburnt Tibetan said of his plans to observe the Dalai Lama’s 81st birthday before quietly fading into a crowd of tourists and believers heading into the Sera monastery outside Lhasa on Wednesday morning.’ The report also stated: “Nearly all Tibetans Hindustan Times spoke to in Lhasa on Wednesday remained silent or changed the conversation when it came to the birthday. One put a finger to his lips. Others said no one was celebrating it — at least not openly.”