Tibetan residents of the New York City area called on Sunday for Tibet’s freedom, demonstrating outside the city’s Chinese consulate to mark the 33rd anniversary of a protest in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, the first since 1959, that saw monks, nuns, and laypeople pour into the streets to call for independence.
Organized by the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress of New York and New Jersey, the weekend protest saw slogans raised for the release of political prisoners held by China in Tibet, for greater access to Tibetan areas for foreign media, and for the long life of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Regarded by Chinese leaders as a separatist, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 Tibetan national uprising against rule by China, which marched into the formerly independent Himalayan country in 1950.
Tashi Lamsang, president of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress of New York and New Jersey, said the Tibetan Youth Congress has appealed to the United Nations and to governments around the world for the last 60 years to support the Tibetan cause, launching protest marches and hunger strikes.
“But nothing concrete has resulted from all these actions and appeals,” he said.
Now, with China coming under renewed international scrutiny, Beijing “is being criticized and pressured by many countries,” Lamsang said, adding, “Tibetans must make this opportunity count and come together to stand against the Chinese Communist Party [CPP].”
Tibetan protests also formed in Paris on Sunday, with Uyghurs, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Mongolians, and residents of Hong Kong also gathering near the iconic Eiffel Tower to denounce what they called the CPP’s record of human rights violations against their own communities.
French Senator Andre Gattolin, who was present at the protests, said he had recently called on French President Emmanuel Macron to express his concerns over China’s rights abuses in Tibet and the Xinjiang region, where over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities have been held since 2017 in a vast network of political internment camps.
As a member of the International Parliamentary Alliance on China, Gattolin said he is working together with other lawmakers around the world to help create change.
Witnesses share accounts
Speaking in interviews with RFA, participants in and witnesses to the Sept. 27, 1987 protest in Lhasa described their experience of the event, which was followed on Oct. 1 by even larger protests that saw Tibetan residents set fire to a Chinese police station and throw stones at police.
“I was surprised when I first heard that protests had broken out in the Lhasa streets, as I had never heard of protests happening before, and we all knew what the consequences of such protests could be,” Ngawang Triral, a monk at Ganden monastery outside the city, said.
Triral joined a group of Ganden monks to take part in the protest and helped sew Tibetan national flags to be carried in the streets, he said, adding that when protests broke out again next year on March 5, the anniversary of a massive uprising in Lhasa in 1959, he saw protesters and other city residents when Chinese troops fired on the crowds in the streets.
Ganden Tsering, another Ganden monk, said he was part of a team scouting Lhasa for Chinese security arrangements in advance of another planned protest on Oct. 4. “Security had been tightened, though, and the situation was tense, and we couldn’t make it to Lhasa on that day,” he said.
Later involved in the March 5 protest next year, Tsering said he was arrested and jailed for four years in Lhasa’s notorious Drapchi Prison.
Robbie Barnett—a founding member of the London, UK-based Tibet Information Network and later director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at New York’s Columbia University—was also present in Lhasa for the 1987 protest on Oct. 1, he said.
“I watched as a small Tibetan boy ran from the crowd and picked up a rifle that a policeman had dropped because of the stones that were being thrown, and the boy lifted up the rifle and smashed it on the ground,” Barnett said.
“Behind me, an elderly lady was weeping, trying to speak, and slowly I realized that she was asking me to tell the world what I was seeing.”
“A Tibetan who spoke some English told me that her tears were for happiness, not sorrow, because at last, for that hour or so, Tibetans had recovered a patch of land that was theirs again,” he said.
Reported by Tashi Wangchuk for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.