Despite intensive security and a stepped-up military presence, Tibetans marked two significant anniversaries on March 10 and 14, and called attention to restrictions, with protests involving hundreds of people in Amdo, eastern Tibet. Two of the protests, in Macchu (Chinese: Maqu) county town and Tsoe City (Ch: Hezuo), both in Kanlho (Ch: Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture) in Gansu Province, involved teenage students, and their schools are now under military lockdown. In Lhasa, the atmosphere was tense around March 10-14, with one Tibetan in the city describing it as “like a war-zone.”
It is the only period in which protests against Chinese rule and in support of the Dalai Lama have continued for more than two years despite the violent crackdown in place against any form of dissent. ICT has monitored more than 230 protests, the overwhelming majority peaceful, since March 10, 2008. The protests have involved almost every sector of society – including teachers, scholars, intellectuals, monks, nuns, farmers and nomads, with many involving school children and college students. Information about the protests is extremely difficult to obtain due to the climate of fear across the region and systematic efforts by the Chinese authorities to prevent news reaching the outside world.
Students protest in Machu
On the second anniversary of the protests and riots in Lhasa on March 14, 2008, at 11-12 noon, around 20-30 students from the Machu Tibetan Middle School began a peaceful protest after the authorities intensified security measures and refused to allow students to leave the school grounds in the buildup to March 10, the 1959 Uprising anniversary. According to at least three exile sources in contact with Tibetans in the area, the students were soon joined by more than 100 local Tibetans (some sources say several hundred), as they protested along the main street of Machu (Ch: Maqu) County in Kanlho (Ch: Gannan TAP) in Gansu Province. The demonstration included calls for a “Free Tibet,” “Long life for His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” and “Chinese get out of Tibet,” according to the same sources, who also reported that protestors called for resolution of the Tibet situation through dialogue. (Since 2002, envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese officials have met for sporadic dialog, most recently in January 2010.)
The students and local people were surrounded by riot police and soldiers before teachers from the Machu Tibetan Middle School persuaded the students to return to the school. At least 40 Tibetans were said to have been detained, according to a Radio Free Asia report from Kathmandu. (Radio Free Asia, Tibetan Students Stage Protest – March 16, 2010.)
According to a source who spoke to Radio Free Asia, following the protest the school’s headmaster, Kyabchen Dedrol, and two assistants-Do Re and another man, who was not named-were dismissed from their jobs. The same source said that the head of the Machu Public Security Office, Sonam Tse, had also been either fired or demoted. The head of the Machu Education Department, a Chinese official with direct responsibility for the middle school, has been allowed to keep his job, according to RFA.
The military presence in Machu has been stepped up since the protests, and shops and restaurants were closed. Travel between neighboring areas is being blocked for many people, and internet and phone access also restricted.
Further protest by school students in Kanlho
According to several Tibetan sources, Tibetan students from two middle schools in Tsoe – the Kanlho Tibetan Middle School (Ch: Gannan zangzu zhongxue) and Tsoe City Tibetan Middle School (Ch: Hezuo Shi zangzu zhongxue) – demonstrated peacefully in the streets on March 16. All of the students had been prevented from leaving their schools, which are boarding schools, since March 10 due to intensified security linked to the anniversary of both the Uprising in 1959 and the beginning of the current wave of protests on March 10, 2008.
One Tibetan source with contacts in the area said that around 30 or 40 students took part in the protest, which was quickly broken up after the students were surrounded by armed police. More than 20 students, aged from 15 upwards, were detained, and are believed to be still in custody for questioning and ‘education.’ The same Tibetan source said: “The students found the restrictions since March 10 very difficult and they protested about that. Now the school is surrounded by armed military. They are at the main gates and all around the school. Parents are there too, begging for permission to see their children, but the school is locked and all students now have to remain inside. The soldiers also confiscated the students’ mobile phones. There seems to be an increased troop buildup in the area, with one local telling me he saw five or six military trucks full of soldiers moving into some of the villages in the area near the school. It is the same in Machu – troops are patrolling day and night and people are quite scared to go out in the evening.”
Tibetan students in the area were involved in other incidents of peaceful protest in 2008: on March 17, 2008, Tibetan students from several different colleges including the Tibetan Medical College and Teacher Training Higher Institute held a protest in Tsoe, with at least one of the demonstrations blocked by armed police. (Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy report, March 17, 2008.)
The normal pattern after protests is that the authorities continue intense surveillance and investigation, and detentions can continue for weeks afterwards. Typically, people involved in protests during March 2008 and since have been given harsh sentences, often as a result of the Chinese authorities branding protests as “incitement to split the nation” – a crime which carries a maximum term of life imprisonment – as opposed to charging people solely with public order offenses. (For a list of Tibetan political prisoners, including their sentences and other details, see: www.https://savetibet.org/resources/political-prisoners/)
Ditsa monks detained after peaceful protest
On March 10, some of the more than 400 monks at Ditsa monastery in Amdo scattered leaflets in the monastery compound and pasted posters expressing loyalty to the Dalai Lama and calling for a “Free Tibet.” According to Tibetans in exile and in contact with Tibetans in the area, at least 30 security personnel came to the monastery and were joined by at least 100 more later that day. They detained 18-year old Jamyang from Tsigortang (Ch: Xinghai) county in Tsolho (Ch: Hainan TAP) in Qinghai Province; 19-year old Yeshe, also from Tsigortang, and a reincarnate lama in his thirties, Tulku Woeser, who has since been released after three days of interrogation.
The same source said that troops set up tents outside the monastery, restricted the movements of all monks and preventing religious assemblies, banning two religious events – a formal religious debate and a second ceremony. The source said that the monastery school was also closed on March 10. The school is attended by more than 60 young monks, with lessons in Tibetan, Chinese and mathematics.
Anniversary marked quietly in Lhasa: stepped-up security
Security in and around Lhasa was significantly tightened in the buildup to the March 10 and 14 anniversaries and during the anniversary days. One Lhasa citizen reported more than 10 checkpoints on the road to the airport on March 9 and 10, and said that Lhasa was “like a war-zone”. A Tibetan in exile said: “We don’t call people in Lhasa on March 10 – it’s too dangerous for them.”
According to Radio Free Asia, hotels and restaurants owned by Tibetans in Lhasa were closed on March 14. A Lhasa resident told RFA: “They were ordered to open their businesses as usual and were told that if they did not open their shops, their display carts would be taken away. The Tibetans didn’t open their shops and marked the March 14 anniversary in silence.”
Beginning on March 2, 2010, authorities implemented a ‘Strike Hard’ campaign that resulted in several hundred Tibetans in Lhasa being detained and questioned. Authorities had implemented a Strike Hard campaign in the buildup to the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising in March 2009. Strike Hard campaigns are typically carried out in various parts of the People’s Republic of China prior to major events, including national holidays, as well as before the main annual government and Party conferences, often with the stated intention of “cleansing the social environment.” As with the Strike Hard campaign in Tibet in 2009, the unprecedented levels of security in the region appeared to be intended to intimidate Tibetans still further in the buildup to the March 10 anniversary.
In a blog written from Lhasa during the Tibetan New Year last month, the Tibetan writer Woeser said: “Lhasa in February, with the arrival of Losar, we can also observe some special colors: one is green, representing soldiers with weapons in their hands, running wild in the streets of Tibet. When one runs into them directly, one has to quickly give way, or else one might with sudden force be pushed aside. There are also some soldiers, who boldly stand on Tibetan people’s rooftops, looking down from above, valiantly pressuring the Tibetans walking below gasping for breath. The other color is blue, representing the police also carrying weapons in their hands, not just a few of them are Tibetans. I witnessed myself that a young Tibetan who was paying homage to Buddha was pushed away and when he answered back defiantly, a Tibetan policeman clutched his throat. Another color is always changing. I am not sure how many times these plainclothes policemen have changed their outfits; I even heard that some of them pretend to be Buddhist monks wearing robes wandering around the temples. Or they pretend to be tourists wearing rosaries on their wrists.” (Translation into English from Chinese by High Peaks, Pure Earth.)