Rare footage of a protest made it out of Tibet this past weekend. The Tibetans who sent it will likely be caught, and if they are, they will definitely be tortured and imprisoned. That’s just how it goes in Tibet these days.
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Tibet is under de-facto martial law. The plateau has been virtually sealed off from the outside world, and Chinese troops and security forces are in the streets everywhere. All communication is strictly monitored, and in some places mobile phone service has been shut down completely.
As Tibetans mark the 50th anniversary of the March 10th, 1959 Uprising that led to the escape of the Dalai Lama into exile, the Chinese government is doing everything it its power to intimidate Tibetans into silence and prevent the world from witnessing the extreme and brutal measures they have taken to enforce this silence.
But despite the intense repression in Tibet at this time, Tibetans refuse to give up. In spite of the troops, tanks and snipers, in spite of the the beatings, arrests and disappearances â€“ Tibetans continue to resist.
Tibetan monks, nuns, and lay people, both young and old, continue to go into the streets to voice their opposition to Chinese rule. Sometimes it’s one person, other times it’s a handful. This past weekend in a remote town in eastern Tibet, it was more than a thousand.
The protest in Ragya started after a young monk, 28-year old Tashi Sangpo, jumped into the Machu river (Yellow river). When he jumped, Tashi had just escaped from police custody. He was being held for reportedly raising the banned Tibetan flag atop the main prayer hall at Ragya monastery and distributing pro-independence leaflets on March 10th.
We don’t know if Tashi was trying to escape from his captors or if he was trying to take his life. Witnesses saw his body pulled under the water and swept away. And although Tashi remains missing, Tibetans from Ragya say it is unlikely he survived.
The footage of the protest, though shaky and unclear, gives us a sense of the local people’s reaction to Tashi’s desperate act. They gathered together, sounding the traditional rallying cry, raised their fists and shouted slogans like “Bod Gyalo” and “Lha Gyalo,” or “Victory to Tibet” and “Victory to the Gods,” and marched on the local police station.
Reports indicate that some in the crowd threw stones, and at least one official was badly beaten. The last we heard on Saturday was that the area was flooded with troops and Ragya monastery was surrounded by military. But we can’t get any more information now because the phones are monitored and people are fearful of retaliation by the authorities. It’s a serious crime to pass information to the outside world. Recently, 30-year old Norzin Wangmo was sentenced to five years in prison for sending information out about the situation in Tibet by phone and internet.
Officially, the Chinese state-run media is saying that the Ragya protest was nothing more than a violent riot where Tibetans attacked the police station. They say the Tibetans were “deceived by rumors” about Tashi, a prisoner who escaped from the police station and “went missing” after swimming across the Yellow River.
So now it’s our word against theirs. But at least this time we have some proof of what happened.
If you ask any Tibetan what would have compelled Tashi to jump into a rushing river, what punishment could be so bad that this was the better option, they will likely sigh and shake their head in sadness. Tashi was in detention for suspicion of engaging in an act of protest, and every Tibetan knows what that means â€“ he would undoubtedly be tortured and imprisoned. That’s just how it goes in Tibet these days.
But our people keep on fighting.