Dharamshala — A Tibetan man has been arrested in Manggo village, Rebkong County, in north-eastern Tibet after posting material relating to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's birthday on a popular messaging application called WeChat.
Weeks before His Holiness the Dalai Lama's 80th birthday on June 21 (which is his birthday according to the Lunar Calendar), Chinese authorities began exerting pressure against public celebrations related to the event, sources said.
Tibetans in Rebkong were instructed not to assemble in large groups, organize celebratory picnics, or use social media during the 80th birthday event. They were also instructed not to share photos or videos with others.
"Many vehicles equipped with devices to monitor online activities have been seen patrolling the area to monitor Tibetan movement," one source noted.
However, many parts of Tibet held several events – including prayer services for the long life of the Dalai Lama – over the weekend. A common theme among these gatherings was the display of the spiritual leader's photo.
The authorities have detained several people for sharing Dalai Lama-related photos online. Tsering Dhondup, 25, was detained for posting images of the Tibetan flag and His Holiness the Dalai Lama on WeChat.
Since his arrest, Mr Dhondup's conditions and whereabouts remain unknown. The secret detention of Tibetans for exercising basic human rights is all-too-common within Tibet, and has drawn criticism from non-governmental organizations and governments alike. In these situations family members often only learn the specifics of the case and see their imprisoned relative at trial, if one even occurs.
The detention of Mr Dhondup follows established patterns of human rights violations in Tibet. The PRC closely monitors WeChat, which is a common application on smartphones throughout China and Tibet. Tibetans can be arrested and given severe prison sentences for sharing material on WeChat. In the weeks leading up to the spiritual leader's birthday, PRC officials tightened pre-existing restrictions in Tibet.
Sources stated, "Tibetans in Manggo village had planned a variety of activities for June 20th and 21st" to mark the 80th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's birth year. "But the Chinese authorities prevented them," the same sources added.
Some sources observed that the crackdowns against Tibetans for celebrating their spiritual leader's birthday follow a pattern similar to the restrictions preceding Tiananmen Square anniversaries. Officials' obstruction of public gatherings and the deployment of vehicles suited with digital surveillance equipment in Tibetan areas accompanied Dhondup's arrest for posting photos on WeChat.
Chinese authorities also banned the public from attending events at monasteries, and warned Tibetans they could have their phones confiscated and searched. Like Mr Dhondup, many Tibetans may have been detained or are in danger of being detained, in what is an increasingly standard practice the Chinese authorities use to punish Tibetans.