Tibetans in Driru County arrested for speaking to Tibetans in exile

Military troops in Driru County
25th June 2021

Crackdown in Driru County continues seven years on

In April 2021, Chinese authorities carried out several arrests in Driru County in Nagchu, which is governed as part of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region. One Tibetan, Gyajin, has been identified while the names of other Tibetans arrested are yet to be ascertained. 

Sources expressed the deepening state of fear in which local Tibetans continue to live day to day which prevents them from sending information and talking about politically sensitive issues on social media. Severe restrictions and surveillance in the region heightened after the local Tibetans staged a strong protest against Chinese-affiliated companies who encroached on their sacred mountain, Naglha Zamba, and began extraction activities in 2010 and May 2013.

According to a local source, 44-year-old Gyajin, a father of three was arrested on suspicion of contacting Tibetans in exile through social media and by phone. 

Tibetans in exile with family ties in Driru County find themselves without any means of communication to know about the well-being of their families and the ongoing issues. Those who manage to contact are hesitant about speaking about the sensitive situation in Driru County for fear of their families in Tibet will face severe reprisals. Since the 2013 anti-mining protest, many Tibetans had been arrested for contacting their family members living in exile, who are also unable to return to Tibet. 

Driru Ccounty is one of the most severely and militarily controlled areas in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region. In August 2020, Lhamo, 36 years old nomad and mother of three from Driru, died from torture injuries inflicted on her during her arbitrary detention. Lhamo was apparently detained for sending money to her family ties in India. In addition to this act of financial support, which is not illegal under Chinese law, a credible source spoken to by Tibet Watch, confided that her detention is also due to the presence of photos of the Dalai Lama at her home, which was found during a search operation. In June 2020, her nephew, Tenzin Tharpa, from Chaktse township in Driru was also detained on the same charges of having sent money to family members in India. He is a 39-year-old entrepreneur who runs a local business dealing in medicinal herbs and other local products.

The current repression in Driru County can be dated back to May 2013. This is when a Chinese government-affiliated company arrived. This reignited the local Tibetans’ fear of their land, including a sacred mountain, being exploited for natural resources. In 2010, Tibetans were told that hydroelectric dam and roads were going to be constructed for their benefit but they responded that there were already three dams and that there was no need for further dams on their river, known in Tibetan as Gyalmo Ngyulchu and Salween in English.  

In spite of the area being issued a certificate recognising the area as an intangible cultural heritage site in January 2013, the local Tibetans knew from their lived experience from 2010, that their sacred land was going to be exploited for purposes not of their benefit and consent. An estimated 3,500 Tibetans converged on the site on 24 May 2013, and others gathered in town to express their resistance and refusal of the planned building activities.

After the local Tibetans filed petitions and protested, the activities were put on hold and it was promised that none of the protestors would be arrested. Then on 3 September 2013, local Tibetans of Tsachu Township were made to attend a patriotic re-education campaign during which Dayang, then aged 68, raised a khata, a ceremonial tibetan scarf, and shouted several slogans calling for Tibetan independence and the long life of the Dalai Lama.

Since then, waves of arrests ensued and scores of Driru residents were monitored, detained and arrested. The last known story from Driru County was of Kunchok Jinpa, an environmentalist and tour guide, who died in a hospital in Lhasa on 6 February 2021 from atrocious torture inflicted on him during his 21-year prison trial. It is believed that he was tortured in Nyetang Prison [Ch.: Nidang] near Lhasa.

Please find Tibet Watch’s report- Driru County: The New Hub of Tibetan Resistance- for further details of Driru County’s protest

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