China renews Tibet crackdown as New Year boycott looms

Chinese police in Lithang County, Sichuan province, detained 15 Tibetans who marched peacefully in support of the Dalai Lama Feb. 16. Five more local Tibetans who are believed to have participated in the march were detained the next day. Citing reports from witnesses on the ground, the India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said the town of Lithang has been effectively shut down since the protest, with shops closed and traffic brought to a halt by police checkpoints.

Police detained the Tibetans as they marched through the center of Lithang, shouting “Long live the Dalai Lama,” “Independence for Tibet” and “No Losar celebration this year.” They were all “brutally beaten, manhandled at the site of the demonstration before being forcibly loaded into military trucks,” TCHRD quoted witnesses as saying. (Phayul, Feb. 17; VOA, Feb. 16)

Police in Lhasa arrested dozens of Tibetans last week suspected of supporting a campaign called by the exiled Dalai Lama to boycott celebrations of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, as a protest to commemorate last year’s anti-Chinese demonstrations. Those detained were accused of “spreading rumors,” sources in Lhasa said.

Tibetans campaigning against celebration of Losar, which falls on Feb. 25, say that the day should be a time of remembrance for those killed in last year’s repression. They are spreading the boycott appeal on the Internet and through text messages. One text message reads: “To mourn those Tibetans who died in 2008, those many heroes who gave their lives, to show sympathy for all Tibetans, we should have no New Year and join hands to show our solidarity.”

Hand-made posters have also been posted on walls in ethnic Tibetan areas of western China urging people not to celebrate. One reads: “One thousand people have been arrested, 1,000 people have disappeared. We others, Tibetans who are living safely, if you have a good heart please… Do not sing, dance or play and do not set off fireworks… Let us remember the dead and pray for the living.” (London Times, Feb. 3)

China’s Ambassador Li Baodong told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in response to questioning on the reports, that people in China are free to voice their opinions to the media and that the government opposes torture. “China respects the principle of the universality of human rights,” the document he submitted to the panel states. But it adds: “Given differences in political systems, levels of development and historical and cultural backgrounds, it is natural for countries to have different views on the question of human rights.” (WP, Feb. 10)

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