Sources in China’s Sichuan province told the Tibetan exile media that a Tibetan monk in Ngaba county (Chinese: Aba) was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on charges of promoting efforts to “split the nation.” The sentence was reportedly handed down against Shal-ngo Hortsang Tamdrin on Oct. 29, after he led a public prayer in Zamthang town for Tibetans who have self-immolated, and allegedly called for uniting “the traditional provinces of Tibet.” Ngaba county is part of the traditional Tibetan region of Amdo, which is not recognized as an administrative entity by Chinese authorities. The public prayer reportedly took place in April at the Tsangpa Monastery, which was subsequently placed under heavy surveillance by a large contingent of security forces. The number of Tibetans who have self-immolated now stands at 122, with 104 fatalities, according to a count by exile organizations. (Tibet Post, Nov. 21)
The case comes amid a civil disobedience campaign by Tibetan-populated counties in Chinese provinces, with residents refusing orders to fly China’s national flag from their homes. The orders come as part of a government campaign to promote displays of loyalty to the Chinese state. The latest acts of defiance were reported from Sichuan’s Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) county in the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and Dzatoe (Zaduo) county in Qinghai’s Yulshul (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. At Driru (Biru) county within the Tibet Autonomous Region, residents reportedly took flags distributed for display and dumped them in a river—prompting a crackdown in which Chinese police fired into crowds. (RFA, Nov. 8)
Beijing has meanwhile accused the Dalai Lama of promoting “splittism” by using the Tibetan flag. The Dalai Lama responded to the charge in a meeting with Japanese lawmakers at the National Diet Building in Tokyo—saying that he had been personally authorized to use the flag by Mao Zedong. He said that during one of his meetings with Chairman Mao in Beijing in 1954, Mao had asked whether Tibet had a flag. When the Dalai Lama cautiously replied that it did, Mao replied, “Good, you must fly it alongside the national flag,” according to an account of the Tokyo meeting on the Tibetan exile government website. “This is why, today, despite hardliners in Peking [Beijing] asserting that the Tibetan flag is a symbol of the ‘splittists,’ His Holiness feels he has Mao Zedong’s personal permission to keep and fly it.”
The report said the Tibetan flag was first introduced by the 13th Dalai Lama in 1912, and designed with the help of a Japanese Buddhist priest. and used in the same capacity until 1959.
In response to the self-immolations, the Dalai Lama said the wave of suicide protests are “sad,” but he appeared not to pass judgement. Because of “the great difficulties” Tibetans face, he said, “these people are prepared to give up their lives.” In response to claims by the Chinese authorities, he added: “It’s not because they are drunk or beset by domestic problems… It’s for the Chinese authorities to investigate the situation thoroughly to establish why so many in Tibet have chosen this path.”
The latest self-immolation was reported Nov. 11 in Pema (Banma) county in Qinghai’s Golog (Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. (RFA, Nov. 21)
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