Police in western China’s Sichuan province arrested eight more residents of a Tibetan township in Kardze prefecture this month, taking into custody six monks and two laywomen amid a crackdown by authorities on language rights and possession of banned images of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, sources said.
The arrests in the Dza Wonpo township of Sershul (in Chinese, Shiqu) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture followed a wave of earlier detentions in late August that saw over 100 township residents also taken into custody, sources said in earlier reports.
On Sept. 3, police took six monks from the township’s Dza Wonpo monastery into custody, escorting them under heavy guard to their quarters for inspection of their belongings, a Tibetan living in India told RFA on Tuesday, citing contacts in the region.
“They were then brought to the Sershul county seat, where they are now being held,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Two women [from the town] have now also been detained,” he added.
The identities of those being held and details of any charges made against them were not immediately available, owing to strict clampdowns by Chinese police on communications in Tibetan areas.
Many of the Tibetans arrested in earlier raids in the area beginning Aug. 25 were members of a local group promoting the use and preservation of the Tibetan language, now being replaced under government orders by Chinese as the sole medium for classroom instruction in local schools, the source said.
“This education policy that the Chinese government is now aggressively implementing could be one of the reasons for this string of arrests in the region, where they are rounding up Tibetans who simply advocate for the protection of the Tibetan language,” he said.
Ban on photos
The ongoing wave of arrests in Dza Wonpo shows that the Chinese government ”can’t tolerate evidence of [Tibetans’] loyalty to any force other than itself,” said Sophie Richardson, China Director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“There is no law against possessing pictures of the Dalai Lama that are consistent with Chinese and international human rights law, and anyone who’s been detained on that basis should be immediately released,” she said.
Considered a separatist by Chinese leaders, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising against rule by China, which marched into the formerly Himalayan country and annexed it by force in 1950.
Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, including the right to be educated in their own language.
Politically sensitive region
The Dza Wonpo area has seen many protests against Chinese policies and rule since widespread protests swept Tibetan regions of China in 2008, said Nyima Woeser, a researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
“So the Chinese government regards Dza Wonpo as a politically sensitive region, and it remains under tight scrutiny,” he said.
“With these latest arrests, there have now been almost 121 Tibetans arrested since August, and what we have learned is that most of these detained Tibetans were members of a social group that aims to protect the Tibetan language and initiates language workshops.”
“It is evident that the Chinese government has been aggressively implementing its education policy in recent years leading to the gradual replacement of Tibetan, and all of this is related to what’s happening in Dza Wonpo,” he said.
Speaking to RFA on background on Tuesday, a State Department spokesperson said, “The United States stands with the many Tibetans oppressed and imprisoned by the [People’s Republic of China] for the exercise of their human rights.”
“We urge PRC authorities to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
“Tibet remains a priority for this Administration. We will consider the use of all appropriate tools to promote accountability for PRC officials responsible for human rights abuses in Tibet,” the State Department said.
Reported by Pema Ngodup and Tashi Wangchuk for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.