Tsultrim’s homeland of Tsaruma Township in Chongchi County, Ngaba, eastern Tibet. Photo: Tibet watch

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Dharamshala — A Tibetan man from Ngaba in eastern Tibet has been sentenced to two years in prison by the Chinese government for allegedly contacting Tibetans abroad and posting photos of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet in exile, on a social media app. Under China's repressive policies towards the people of Tibet, it is illegal in Tibet to contact family members abroad or have photos of their spiritual leader (who lives in exile).

According to sources in Tibet, a Tibetan man named Tsultrim was arrested by Chinese authorities on 3 March 2023 and subsequently was sentenced to two years of imprisonment by an intermediate people's court in Ngaba County of eastern Tibet in April or May 2023 for possessing a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his mobile phone and for contacting Tibetans who are living in exile.

"Tsultrim was arrested by the Chinese police on 3 March 2023, a few days before the day of the national uprising of Tibet, the 10th of March. This is the most restricted month for all Tibetans in Tibet, they are not allowed to gather many people, forbidden from travelling, and their every move is closely monitored, particularly online activities, by searching personal phones and homes," the source said.

China labels Tibetans living in a peaceful and free country and their spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as "separatists," whereas the real separatists are the totalitarian Chinese Communist Party, which separates families, parents, and children and does not allow them to reunite and communicate with each other, making it an illegal act in occupied Tibet to contact family and friends abroad and to possess photos of the 14th Dalai Lama. They are separating the spiritual leader of Tibet from his disciples and even keeping his photograph, which is categorised as an illegal act punishable by several years in prison.

According to sources, Tsultrim was secretly sentenced to two years in Chinese prison by the Ngaba County Intermediate People's Court for "contacting separatists outside Tibet" after a month of interrogation following his arrest on 3 March 2023. He is currently serving his sentence in Ragnaka County ((Chinese: Ya'an Prison, Sichuan Province) in eastern Tibet.

Tsultrim was first detained in July 2022 after initial interrogations by Chinese police in Chongchi County for posting a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on a Chinese social media platform (WeChat). He was held in custody for the next two months before being released in September 2022. The forced trial was held in total secrecy, without Tsultrim's family or lawyers present, and his family and close friends have been denied access to him since the verdict. Tsultrim is originally from Tsaruma Township, Ngaba Countya, eastern Tibet.

Tibetans who possess and share photos, books, and teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet in exile, are banned in Tibet by the Chinese authorities, criminalised, and if caught, often subjected to years of imprisonment and torture on charges of "inciting separatism" or various other well-designed crimes that are linked to the national security. For example, possessing photographs of the Dalai Lama or the centuries-old national emblem and flag of Tibet, expressing personal opinions on historical, sociopolitical, and environmental affairs of Tibet, or even speaking out to call for an end to the Chinese government's totalitarian and repressive policies against Tibetan cultural and linguistic freedoms and fundamental human rights in Tibet, are criminalised as serious violations of national security.

In recent years, China has intensified its repressive policies against all Tibetans in Tibet, severely restricting freedom of expression, speech, movement, and religion, turning Tibet under Chinese occupation into a giant prison where Tibetans are forced to be anything but cheerful. For more than 70 years, Tibetans living inside and outside of Tibet have been extremely grief-stricken and fearful of communicating with each other, as they risk arbitrary arrest, severe torture, and heavy imprisonment simply by reaching out to distant family members or close friends living overseas.

A growing number of Tibetans living abroad are revealing that they are increasingly frightened of reaching out to their families back home because of the threat of arrest if they share the truth about Tibet and the government's ongoing crackdown on the people of Tibet. This is because in many cases many Tibetans have been subjected to arrest, torture and imprisonment for their family members living in peaceful and free countries speaking the truth about Tibet and demanding freedom, which China perceived as undermining the reputation of the totalitarian regime in Beijing.

China-Tibet: The one-thing you need to know.

Over the past 70 decades, political repression, social discrimination, economic marginalisation, environmental destruction, eradication of national language and identity, and cultural assimilation have all continued systematically in Tibet, particularly with the massive Chinese migration plan to Tibet, which is highly resented by the people of occupied Tibet.

Accordingly, the communist-totalitarian state of China began its invasion of Tibet in 1949 and fully occupied it in 1959. Since then, more than 1.2 million people, 20% of the six million population of the country, have died as a direct result of the Chinese invasion and occupation under Chairman Mao, one of modern mass murderers in the world. To compound that loss, more than 99 % of the six thousand religious convents, institutions, monuments, temples and shrines in Tibet have been looted or destructively demolished, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of sacred Buddhist scriptures and historical sites.

Until 1949, Tibet was an independent country in the Himalayas with little contact with the rest of the world. However, it existed as a nation with a government, constitution, flag, coat of arms, army, currency, passport, diplomacy, and a rich cultural treasure trove of Buddhist teachings. For Tibetans, religion was a unifying theme, as was their unique language, literature, art, and worldview, shaped by living in harmony with their environment in the harsh conditions of the high mountains.