"Severe punishments" for Dalai Lama photos

Family celebrating the 80th birthday of the Dalai lama inside Tibet, July 2015
Celebrating the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama inside Tibet
3rd February 2016

Authorities clamp down on images of spiritual leader and pornography

Shopkeepers in Drango County in Kardze, eastern Tibet, were given a deadline of yesterday, 2 February, to turn in photographs of the Dalai Lama, or face "severe punishment". Local authorities in the county also issued an explicit prohibition on the sale or display of his image, as part of a wider clampdown on "illegal publications".

"Culture and discipline"

Drango residents were informed of the policy in a notice issued on 4 January by four departments of the county authorities: the Public Security Bureau (the police), the Cultural and Tourism Bureau, the Bureau for Religious Affairs and the department responsible for local businesses. It stated:

 “if any shop or store has possessed photos and portraits of the Dalai Lama and displayed those before the date of this notice, they should be voluntarily surrendered to the Drango county Office of Culture and Discipline by 2nd February 2016”.

According to the notice, an investigation had been carried out which found that 40% of shopkeepers in the county were displaying the pictures, presumably for sale. Free Tibet sources also report that his image was widely displayed in the area.

Earlier this month, Tibetans in Drango openly displayed the Dalai Lama's image during public prayers for his wellbeing following reports he was undergoing medical treatment in the US.


According to Western news agency AFP, the policy was promoted as part of a clampdown on illegal publications, including "pornography and images of the Dalai Lama". According to the report, a Chinese scholar said that "Chinese" people displaying images of the Dalai Lama was like Americans showing pictures of Saddam Hussein.

A dangerous photograph

Tibetans' loyalty to the Dalai Lama - the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and fomer political leader of Tibet - is seen by Chinese authorities as a significant threat to their authority and rule. 

In the Tibet Autonomous Region, the western administrative province of Tibet which was the flashpoint for the Tibet-wide uprising in 2008, a ban on possessing and displaying images of the Dalai Lama is very strictly enforced, with severe penalties issued for breaching it. In other parts of Tibet - including Kardze - the authorities have often taken a more pragmatic approach, recognising that the ban can itself be a source of grievance and protest. However, they have always been willing to punish Tibetans for possession of images at any time.

Tibetans in Drango County report persistent attempts by the authorities to interfere in and control the daily lives of Tibetans over the past year.

Take action for Thardhod Gyaltsen

Chinese-occupied Tibet has some of the harshest restrictions on civil liberties in the world. Take action for Thardhod Gyaltsen, a monk sentenced to 18 years in jail for owning pictures and recordings of the Dalai Lama, prohibited under Chinese rule.