Agam's Gecko
Friday, May 08, 2009
Labrang student protest
New photos surface of a protest in Labrang led by middle school students, April 24, 2009.
Photo: Kunleng (VOA Tibetan service)

Tibetan lama who had recorded a video testimony last year after being detained and physically abused by Chinese security forces has been released from his second stint of incarceration in the past year. Meanwhile a monk in Ngaba Prefecture, who may have admitted to sending information to the outside world about Tabey's attempted self-immolation in February, remains missing and is feared dead. Some information has escaped the plateau through China's steel curtain, in the form of accounts and photos of the students' march in Labrang last month.

Lama Jigme Guri was seized off the street on March 22, 2008 as he returned to Labrang Monastery from the town market. He was held for several months during which time he was severely tortured, and nearly died of his injuries. At that point he was released to his family, as some other Tibetans have been after suffering abuse which nearly killed them. The expectation seems to be that they will die in their family's custody, and the Chinese will thus not be blamed for killing them. Jigme survived after spending three weeks in hospital, and later returned to his monastery.

Lama Jigme Guri
Lama Jigme Guri of Labrang Tashi Kyil Monastery, Sangchu County, Kanlho T-"A"-P, was released this week by the Chinese authorities after six months detention without trial.
Photo: Woeser
Sometime in August Lama Jigme recorded a video testimony of his ordeal (faithful readers will recall that the Tibetan name "Jigme" translates as "Fearless"). The video was acquired by VOA's Tibetan language program Kunleng, and broadcast last September 3. Jigme went into hiding, living in the mountains and visiting safe houses until the approaching winter made that impossible. He returned again to Labrang around the beginning of November (after police had assured his family that he was safe from arrest), and on November 4 around 70 officers of the People's Armed Police and Public Security Bureau seized him from his monk's quarters and took him to an unknown location.

The 42 year old monk, who had been ordained at Labrang at the age of 13, mastered religious thangka painting and butter sculpture arts, and later headed the monastery's vocational training centre, was also the vice-chairman of its Democratic Management Committee (the Communist Party's oversight and disciplinary body within every Tibetan religious institution) at the time of his first arrest. Upon his latest release on May 3, after six months in his second abusive stretch of Chinese prison treatment, local accounts say that he is looking very frail and weak.

Once again, the heroes in this case are the same two Chinese civil rights lawyers who took on Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche's case, leading to its indefinite postponement last month. One of the two, Li Fangping, told the London Times that Jigme had been released "on bail", and that the mere prospect of legal assistance seemed to be enough to do the trick.
"When the police told him that lawyers had come forward to help him, he said he wanted legal representation. Before we even had time to see him, he had been released."
Mr. Li and his partner, Mr. Jiang Tianyong said that Jigme had been warned by police not to give interviews and to see "as few people as possible."

The International Campaign for Tibet clarifies the bail issue from accounts by Tibetan sources. The release falls under something called "qubao houshen" which are restrictions on one's movements, associations, communications and other conditions. Violations of any of the conditions may result in further detention without trial.

Jigme's August 2008 testimonial has now been captioned with English subtitles:

The Tibetan author / poet / citizen journalist Woeser was the first to announce Jigme's release at her blog on May 5. High Peaks Pure Earth has a translation. A number of good photos of Lama Jigme in his home surroundings (as well as his hospitalization) can be viewed at Woeser's original article.

Coincidentally, I received an alert this morning to a new translation of a piece Woeser wrote for Radio Free Asia last month. In this one she does a very insightful media analysis and points out a fundamental misunderstanding by the Chinese state-controlled media organs on using and increasing their "discourse power". In a delightful anecdote, she recounts an occasion when a Xinhua official approached a senior foreign journalist for advice on achieving "discourse power" in the west. The journalist told her that in his response to the official, he emphasized "positioning":
"You people are positioned as mouthpieces, so you can’t think about whether the news you report is true or not; and so you are incapable of establishing any power of discourse. We, on the other hand, are positioned to make money. In order to make money we’ve got to provide truthful reporting, and that’s a necessary condition for establishing authority in discourse." When he heard this, the Xinhua official was very uncomfortable.
I just bet he was! I really hope that conversation gets passed around at the Xinhua water cooler.

Monk Tabey
Monk Tabey, of Ngaba Kirti Monastery, lays in the street after he set himself on fire and was reportedly felled by gunshots from the security forces on February 27, 2009.
Photo: anonymous
Tibetans in Ngaba Prefecture (Ch: Sichuan province) remain very concerned for the well-being of Jamyang Phuntsok, a 35 year old monk believed to be suspected by Chinese authorities of sending information about fellow monk Tabey's protest on February 27, 2009. A few days after Tabey's action, in which he attempted to immolate himself and, according to witnesses, was felled at the precise time three gunshots were heard fired by security forces, Jamyang Phuntsok was arrested from his quarters at Kirti Monastery. His whereabouts remain unknown and officials have not provided any information, leading many local people to suspect he may already be dead. Chinese state-run party mouthpiece Xinhua reported on March 5 than the monk had accepted the allegations of sending information to the outside world, but this has not been confirmed by any reliable sources.

Tabey remains in detention at an undisclosed hospital in Sichuan, and is not allowed visitors. A press release by the Kirti Monastery in exile said that his condition has improved sufficiently for him to leave the hospital, but authorities will not permit him to leave. The monk's mother had been allowed to see him in March, and she said that the Chinese authorities were pressuring him to have both his legs amputated. Tabey refused the surgery, which is almost surely for the purpose of destroying the evidence that he had been shot by security forces before being extinguished.

Images and accounts of the protest led by students of the Sangchu Tibetan Middle School on April 24 at Labrang, Amdo have escaped into freedom. Several of the photos were shown on Wednesday's broadcast of Kunleng, the Voice of America Tibetan language program. The students had gathered early on that Friday morning and began marching toward Labrang town, but were immediately surrounded by soldiers and police. A Tibetan eyewitness told the International Campaign for Tibet:
"Around 300 soldiers and police arrived immediately at the scene. Older Tibetans were begging the soldiers not to harm the students and to let them go back into the schoolyard. The school was then surrounded by armed soldiers."
The students had called for freedom and democracy, return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet, and a solution to the problem of Chinese students taking college placements under the Tibetan quota. They were also objecting to a Chinese provocation in the form of an article published in the Kanlho News on April 15, which was then posted on the school bulletin board. The article was a denunciation of the Dalai Lama — a commonplace phenomenon in the Tibetan "Autonomous" Region but relatively new in Amdo. The Chinese "patriotism re-education campaign" is being implemented in the area, according to a Tibetan source in contact with local people.
"The main reason for the students' protest is that the local authorities are implementing a campaign of patriotic education and 'anti-separatism' in schools, which is strongly focused on denouncing the Dalai Lama. At the same time, many articles vilifying the Dalai Lama have been published in newspapers in the Tibetan language."
An interesting term is introduced in this report, cited from an unidentified Chinese language blog. The Tibetan students are referring to the Chinese quota-jumpers as "University Entrance Exam Refugees" (a literal translation of the Chinese term used). These students wish to sit for the Tibetan exams which are designed to be slightly easier due to Tibetans' perceived lesser abilities in Chinese language. Some Chinese students will produce faked ID which shows them as Tibetan, thereby making them a sort of reverse refugee.

Another ironic aspect to this story is given by a Tibetan source. Apparently some local officials missed out on their political "awards" that day:
"What was interesting was that at the time, relevant officials from Kanlho prefecture were on their to Lanzhou to pick up an award they'd won for outstanding [political] 'stability' work, but this incident happened while they were on the road there and so cursing their luck, they had to head back!"
The Kunleng broadcast (Tibetan language) can be viewed on this page by selecting the May 6 news program.

The images have been reduced to ensure no one's face could be recognized, although the video captures are blurry to begin with. I've left out two shots of younger children which were a bit too close for comfort. It's a shame we have to have such concerns — of retaliation on these kids from the Chinese Communist Party colonial administration of their country — but there you go.

[caution: wide format below - narrow windows may push the images below the menu-bar]

Labrang student protest
Labrang student protest

Labrang student protest
Labrang student protest

Labrang student protest
Labrang student protest


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