WASHINGTON — A protest by Tibetan nomads outside local government offices in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan is growing, with more nomads arriving following the arrest of one of their number after he called for the return of the Dalai Lama, sources in the region said.
"The original Tibetans are still standing in protest, with several tents pitched in the area," a caller from Lithang (in Chinese, Litang) county in Karze prefecture told RFA's Tibetan service.
"Three other nomadic groups also arrived and pitched tents in support of the protesting Tibetans demanding the release of Ronggyal Adrak," he said, referring to the detained protester who called for the return of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
Thousands of police
The caller said local authorities had imposed restrictions on the movements of all Tibetans in the area.
"In addition, several thousand armed police are now stationed in the area. Many people have estimated that there could be more than 5,000 of them, as a show of force," the caller said.
Another local resident confirmed that report Monday, and said more nomads had continued to arrive. "Right now, there are four nomadic groups who were originally involved in the protest. Today, eight more groups have joined in the protest and they too have pitched tents surrounding the county government in Lithang and put pressure on officials to release Rongyal Adrak," he said.
Other sources said Rongyal Adrak was very unlikely to be released, however.
The first caller said representatives of the Tibetan nomads had met with top provincial officials, as well as leaders from Karze prefecture and Lithang county. During that meeting, they were told that the "crimes" committed by Rongyal Adrak were "extremely severe", citing in particular his call of "Long live the Dalai Lama!" in front of a crowd of several thousand people.
According to the caller, the officials told the Tibetans: "His action was totally against the constitution of China. Even if he has such thoughts he should not even share such thoughts with his close friends."
"If you support him, you could also be implicated in the crime he committed. So it would be better if you were all to back down," the caller quoted officials as saying.
Crowds gathered for horse racing
The protest escalated during a festival ceremony Aug. 1 after police detained Yonru nomad Rongyal Adrak for whipping up the crowd to shout in support of the Dalai Lama.
He raised his protest at a traditional picnic on the same day that China marks the founding of the People's Liberation Army.
Aug. 1-15 also marks a fortnight of horse-racing and other celebrations among Tibetans, when the local weather is favorable.
Local Chinese security officials have confirmed the incident took place, saying the situation was under control, but declined to give further details.
China regularly sentences Tibetans to jail terms for "splitting the motherland" simply for possessing portraits, writings or recordings of the Dalai Lama, who fled the region after a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. China has said he will play no role in Tibet's future.
A year ago, Tibetan nomads ransacked a local police station in Lithang after a dispute over the results in a major annual horse race.
The Lithang Horse Race Festival is a major event in the region, which has drawn up to 50,000 participants and spectators from all over China in previous years.
China's People's Liberation Army troops marched into Tibet in 1951. The Dalai Lama has accused Beijing of implementing policies of "cultural genocide" against the region and its Buddhist heritage.
Original reporting in Kham by Lobsang Choepel for RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Benpa Topgyal. Service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Karma Dorjee and Dan Southerland.