A Chinese government campaign to build patriotism in Tibet appears to have backfired, leading to protests, mass shootings and detentions in a restive area 560 kilometers northeast of Lhasa.
Tibetan sources tell VOA that Wu Yingjie, the vice party secretary of Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) started a campaign in August to address the rebellious reputation of Driru County, known as Biru in Mandarin. As part of his “Making Driru a Peaceful and Friendly [Place]” campaign, Wu began a prolonged tour of the area.
But his efforts turned into a disaster, according to information received by a Tibetan exile group.
The Drasogdrisum Association, a Dharamsala group of exiles from the region, says violence erupted in the area in late September after Chinese officials ordered Tibetans in Driru to raise Chinese national flags on their houses.
Ngawang Tharpa, the head of Drasogdrisum Association, says the authorities warned that those who disobeyed would not have the right to send their children to school, receive medical treatment in hospitals or to collect caterpillar fungus, an extremely expensive medicinal plant that is found in the area.
Despite the warning, Tibetans in Mowa village, 15 kilometers from the county seat, dumped Chinese flags into a river, according to a letter from Tibet circulated via the online service Wechat and other sources that Tharpa’s group received from phone conversations.
Chinese police clashed with villagers when they arrived to make arrests for the flag dumping. The same sources said Chinese soldiers immediately took control of the village.
A letter from Tibet said about five to seven soldiers guarded each house and that Tibetans in the village were not allowed to even “go outside to use the toilet.” Some reports said soldiers raised the Chinese flags on Tibetan houses. That evening, as many as 1,000 Tibetans gathered outside the local government building and began a 24-hour hunger strike while lying on a road to block military vehicles.
In interviews with VOA, exiles said about 40 Tibetans from nearby villages were detained and beaten when they went to appeal for the withdrawal of Chinese troops. They were later released after protesters agreed to end their demonstration.
“They were photographed from every side of their bodies and their fingerprints were taken before they were released,” said Tashi Gyaltsen, a Tibetan in India who is from the area. Reports filed by several exiled Tibetans, who did not want to be named, said the people were severely injured and were not allowed to leave their homes to get medical treatment after their release.
One Tibetan using the pen name Migchu (Tear) reported from Lhasa via Wechat.com: “Thousands of soldiers and armed police from Lhasa, Shigatse and Lhokha went toward Driru on September 30 and October 1.”
Chinese state-run radio said that on October 3, vice part secretary Wu met with the police in Driru, thanking them for their service and advising them to strike hard at those who engage in criminal activities to harm national security and social stability.
Reports say three days later Chinese security forces fired on a crowd of Tibetans in Dhathang Township, about 68 kilometers northwest of the Driru county seat. The crowd was protesting against armed police and work teams searching the home of a man who was arrested for showing his disapproval of education programs designed to build patriotism for China. Amnesty International reports that as many as 60 people were injured from gunshots or beatings.
State-run news media in Tibetan areas, which have never mentioned the protests, quote Wu as saying the government will push forward with its patriotism campaign in the area.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, did not directly address the events in Driru but told VOA that media outlets should focus on the broader picture of economic development in Tibet.
“I do not know the specifics you mentioned," she said. "Any unbiased person will agree that over the 60 years after the peaceful liberation of Tibet, development has been improved and social stability has been maintained. We hope relevant media organizations will stop single-mindedly focusing on specific cases and look at the progress of Tibet more broadly.”
Tibet has been under the control of the Chinese Communist government in Beijing since 1950.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Tibetan Service, with correspondent Bill Ide contributing from Beijing.