Rare Protest Footage Reveals Tibetan Defiance of Chinese Crackdowns
Tibet is under de facto martial law. The plateau has been virtually sealed off from the outside world, and Chinese troops and security forces are in the streets everywhere. All communication is strictly monitored, and in some places, mobile phone service has been shut down completely.
As Tibetans mark the 50th anniversary of the March 10, 1959, uprising that led to the escape of the Dalai Lama into exile, the Chinese government is doing everything in its power to intimidate Tibetans into silence and prevent the world from witnessing the extreme and brutal measures they have taken to enforce this silence.
Last week, YouTube found that its site had been blocked in China following the Tibetan government-in-exile's release of disturbing and graphic footage of the brutal treatment of Tibetans by Chinese forces during the March 2008 protests in Lhasa.
But despite the intense repression in Tibet at this time, Tibetans refuse to give up. In spite of the troops, tanks and snipers, in spite of the beatings, arrests and disappearances -- Tibetans continue to resist.
Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople, young and old, continue to go into the streets to voice their opposition to Chinese rule. Sometimes it's one person, other times it's a handful. Just last week, in a remote town in eastern Tibet, it was more than a thousand.
The protest in Ragya started after a young monk, 28-year-old Tashi Sangpo, jumped into the Machu River (Yellow River). Sangpo had just escaped from police custody, where he was being held for reportedly raising the banned Tibetan flag atop the main prayer hall at Ragya monastery and distributing pro-independence leaflets on March 10.
We don't know if Sangpo was trying to escape from his captors or if he was trying to take his life. Witnesses saw him pulled under the water and swept away. And although Sangpo remains missing, Tibetans from Ragya say it is unlikely he survived.
The footage of the protest, though shaky and unclear, gives us a sense of the local people's reaction to Sangpo's desperate act. They gathered together, sounding the traditional rallying cry, raised their fists and shouted slogans like "bod gyalo" and "lha gyalo," -- "victory to Tibet" and "victory to the gods," -- and marched on the local police station.
Reports indicate that some in the crowd threw stones, and at least one official was badly beaten.
The last we heard, the area was flooded with troops, and Ragya monastery was surrounded by military. But we can't get any more information now because the phones are monitored, and people are fearful of retaliation by the authorities.
It's a serious crime to pass information to the outside world. Recently, 30-year-old Norzin Wangmo was sentenced to five years in prison for sending information out about the situation in Tibet by phone and Internet.
Officially, the Chinese state-run media is saying the Ragya protest was nothing more than a violent riot, where Tibetans attacked the police station. They say the Tibetans were "deceived by rumors" about Sangpo, who "went missing" after swimming across the Yellow River after escaping the police station.
So now it's our word against theirs. But at least this time we have some proof of what happened.
If you ask any Tibetan what would have compelled Sangpo to jump into a rushing river, what punishment could be so bad that this was the better option, they will likely sigh and shake their head in sadness.
Sangpo was in detention for suspicion of engaging in an act of protest, and every Tibetan knows what that means -- he would undoubtedly be tortured and imprisoned. That's just how it goes in Tibet these days.
But our people keep on fighting.