(New York) - Chinese authorities should immediately release Ronggyal Adrak, a Tibetan nomad who publicly called for religious freedoms and a visit to Tibet by the Dalai Lama, Human Rights Watch said today. The People’s Court in Dartsedo (Chinese: Kangding, Ganzi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province) found Adrak guilty of subversion and “inciting separatism” on October 29.
Adrak’s sentence, which is expected later this week, could range from three years to life imprisonment.
“Once again, the Chinese government is persecuting a Tibetan for having the courage to call for the return of the Dalai Lama,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This is the sign of an emerging power that oddly lacks confidence. This kind of repression also risks exacerbating ethnic tensions in the run-up to the Olympics.”
Adrak was arrested on August 1 at a horse festival in Lithang, Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi), Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province. Authorities arrested him after he went on stage during a public awards ceremony and expressed support for the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since 1959. He also called for the release of both the Panchen Lama Gedun Choekyi Nyima and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a highly respected Tibetan lama who is currently serving out a life sentence on charges of separatism on allegations of involvement, widely regarded as unfounded, in a bombing. According to an official statement released on August 3, Adrak was charged with “inciting separatism.”
In the aftermath of Adrak’s detention, a few hundred Tibetans demonstrated in Lithang to show their support for him. Images released by the International Campaign for Tibet depict Chinese soldiers and police in full riot gear moving into Lithang to suppress the demonstration.
During Adrak’s trial, the presiding judge described Adrak’s crimes as “very severe,” and said that by calling for the Dalai Lama to return, Adrak had “committed the crime of subverting the People’s Republic of China.” Inciting separatism is a state security crime in China, and it carries a minimum sentence of five years. The court also held him responsible for instigating the local protests that followed his arrest.
Since China’s annexation of Tibet in 1951, Tibetans have systematically been denied fundamental human rights, including participation in public affairs, the freedoms of speech, assembly and religion, and the rights guaranteed to ethnic minorities under Chinese law and international standards. However, the Chinese authorities themselves have called for a visit to Tibet by the Dalai Lama since the mid-1980s, though the two sides are involved in inconclusive talks over the conditions imposed.
Adrak’s speech led the Chinese government to initiate a campaign requiring local Tibetan monks and some laypeople in the area to publicly denounce the Dalai Lama, and at the same time many senior Tibetan officials were replaced by ethnic Chinese, apparently on suspicion of harboring loyalties to Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader. A leaked report from the Chinese Communist Party’s Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Tibet Autonomous Region to Radio Free Asia in September 2007 indicated that Tibetan officials could not be trusted because a number of them were “suckling at the breast of the Chinese Communist Party, while calling the Dalai Lama mother,” implying that some Tibetans were simply using the Party while secretly following the Dalai Lama.
The Chinese government has also imposed restrictions on free expression for Tibetan children. In September, seven Tibetan middle-school students were detained in Labrang (Chinese: Xiahe) Gansu province for writing pro-Dalai Lama slogans on walls. At least two of the boys were badly beaten and all showed signs of bruising when released. Four remained in custody for almost two months. They were finally allowed to return to their homes in late October, after large bribes were paid to local officials, but are reportedly confined to their villages, required to check in with the local police station every week, and have not been permitted to return to school.
“The Chinese government promised the United States and others an ‘extreme response’ for its award to the Dalai Lama, and indeed constantly tries to portray Tibetans with any loyalties to the Dalai Lama as ‘extremists,’” said Adams. “But the only extremes at issue here are the imprisonment of people – including children – for peacefully expressing their views.”