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China jails Tibetan monks for Dalai Lama photos

China considers displaying Dalai Lama’s photos, celebrating his birthday, and sharing his teachings as punishable offenses
Tibetan Buddhist monk Tenzin Dhargye

Tibetan Buddhist monk Tenzin Dhargye. (Photo: RFA)

Published: September 05, 2022 09:54 AM GMT
Updated: September 05, 2022 10:21 AM GMT

Authorities in communist China have handed down jail terms to two Tibetan monks for allegedly possessing photos of Tibet’s supreme spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, on their phones.

Monk Tenzin Dhargye has been sentenced to three years and six months, and another monk Rigste was slapped with three years by a court in Tibet’s Sershul county, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported without providing the date of the verdict.

Dhargye, in his 30s, was arrested along with several other monks including in September 2020. They were charged with “separatist acts” for keeping photos of Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India since 1959, on their phones.

Before their arrests, they were among 250 Buddhist monks living at the Barong monastery in Kardze of Sershul county in Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Their sentence came two years after their detention.

“In May of this year they both were convicted of committing an act of ‘separatism’ by possessing photos of the Dalai Lama,” a source told RFA. 

“They were both convicted by the People’s Court in Sershul county, and no one knows how fair the trial was as their families and relatives were not allowed to see them,” said the source. “Tibetans are threatened by the Chinese authorities, so they do not share or discuss any information about them, so we don’t know about their health or which prison they are detained in.”

A Tibetan living in exile said due to strict restrictions it is extremely difficult to get information on what happens in Tibet.

“Due to tight restrictions in the region, it is difficult to obtain [records on] arrests made by the Chinese authorities,” the second source said. 

“Since 2021, the Chinese government has been aggressively inspecting each and every home and threatening Tibetans, telling them that possessing photos of the Dalai Lama is as felonious as possessing arms and guns.” 

The Dalai Lama is the highest spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists around the world. He is also known as the global representative advocating for the protection of Tibetan culture, language, and history.

Tibet is a region of rugged terrain in Central Asia with vast plateaus and mountains including Mount Everest. The region shares borders with the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Yunnan along with the countries of Myanmar, India, Bhutan, and Nepal.

For centuries until the 1950s, Tibet was mostly isolated from the world, while its unique cultural and religious community has thrived with the strong influence of the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhism.

China annexed Tibet in the 1950s by claiming it had always been an integral part of China. Tibetans in the region and outside consider China’s action as an invasion by a foreign force and have long struggled for independence despite brutal suppression.

The 14th Dalai Lama, known to Tibetans as Gyalwa Rinpoche, fled to India in 1959 during a failed Tibetan nationalist uprising against China. The communist regime deployed troops to crush the independence movement.

In Tibet and mainland China, the authorities strictly suppress freedom of speech as well as the religious and political association of Tibetan Buddhists, fearing the re-emergence of a separatist and independence movement.

The authorities also discourage and restrict Tibetan cultural and religious practices.

China maintains a tight grip on Tibet by suppressing political activities and peaceful cultural and religious practices with arbitrary arrests, jailing, torture, and killings.

Display of 87-year-old Dalai Lama’s photos, the celebration of his birthday, and sharing of his teaching on mobile phones and the internet trigger harsh punishment.

In protest at China’s draconian repression of Tibet, at least 157 Tibetan monks, nuns, and laypeople have self-immolated in Tibet and other parts of China since 2009.

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