Police presence in the streets of Biru.
Since September, several Tibetan villages have revolted against the Chinese presence in the region. These protests were violently crushed, with no journalists to witness the events. Nonetheless, protesters were still able to share about a dozen pictures of the revolt and to get in touch with several exiled Tibetans, including our Observer.
The protests have mainly taken place in Biru county (also known as Driru) in the northeastern part of the Autonomous Region of Tibet, in China. Journalists are prevented from travelling to this region and to the Tibetan areas of bordering provinces. Accordingly, information is shared primarily via local and international activists. Ngawang Tharpa, who lives in exile in Dharamsala, India, is one of the last people to have been in touch with Tibetans who witnessed the protests.
The first incident took place in Donla Rido, in Buru county in early September. Dayang, a 78-year old man, was arrested after shouting separatist slogans demanding a free Tibet and the departure of the Chinese. After several days of detention, he was transferred to a hospital. Sources confirmed to me that his body showed signs of abuse. [He was sentenced to two years and five months of prison].
Then, in late September, in the village of Mowa, also in Biru county, residents revolted when the authorities ordered them to hang up Chinese flags in front of each house. The villagers decided to throw their flags into the river instead. Soldiers were immediately dispatched to crush the protest. The latest news, according to my sources, is that they are surrounding most of the houses in the village. Not a single photo of Mowa has been shared, but the incident has had a ripple effect, prompting thousands of people to protest in the city of Biru. The movement has been particularly strong within the university.
Police in the city of Biru.
According to our Observer’s contacts, this is a student gathering in Biru supporting the Mowa protesters.
Law enforcement in Dathang. Photo provided by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
Then, this past Sunday, a big protest took place in Dathang, yet again in Biru county, to support Dorjee Draktsel, who had protested against the Chinese flags and was arrested the prior evening. Protesters gathered in front of a local government building, but law enforcement officers shot into the crowd. Several people were injured, and between one and three people were killed [this information was not confirmed by other sources]. As for Dorjee Draktsel, no one has heard from him since his arrest.
A gunshot wound. Photo provided by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
Biru county is now completely overrun by the police, and entering or leaving is nearly impossible. Furthermore, the authorities have cut off telephone and Internet access. The last person with whom I had contact was in the neighbouring Nangchu prefecture.
These revolts took place in the context of an increasing Chinese presence in the district. In mid-September, the Chinese government sent several thousand bureaucrats into the area, as part of the “Nine Must-Haves”. This is a huge campaign that aims to develop Tibet by building roads and a power grid and simultaneously strengthening the Chinese influence on the ground by displaying official portraits and red flags everywhere.
However, many Tibetans strongly resent this campaign, and say that this is an example of the Chinese government lacking respect for their culture and religion. Some have been calling for more autonomy in this eastern province of China as well as for the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, currently exiled in Dharamsala.
According to the Save Tibet organisation, 122 Tibetans have committed suicide by immolation since 2009 in protest against the Chinese government.