Tibetan New Year’s Celebrations Muffled by Chinese Crackdown

Posted February 22nd, 2012 at 11:50 am (UTC-5)
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Ethnic Tibetans in western China observed the beginning of the Tibetan New Year Wednesday with subdued ceremonies, following a series of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.

In the weeks leading up to the scheduled festivities, China has clamped down on Tibetan activities, cutting off communication to and from the vast ethnic region and flooding flashpoint Tibetan towns and cities with thousands of police reinforcements.

The ongoing crackdown is aimed at curbing year-long protests in which more than 20 Buddhist monks, nuns and their followers have set themselves on fire to protest widely perceived Chinese efforts to suppress Tibetan religion and culture. China calls the self-immolations a form of terrorism.

Wednesday, exiled Tibetan government chief Lobsang Sangay urged Tibetans to forego celebrations in favor of praying for those living under Chinese rule.

“Please do not celebrate Losar, but do observe traditional and spiritual rituals by going to the monastery, making offerings, lighting butter lamps, for all those Tibetans inside Tibet who have sacrificed and continue to suffer under repressive policies of the Chinese government.”

The situation at the Labrang monastery in Gansu province appeared calm on Tuesday, ahead of the celebrations. But a Tibetan monk who wished to remain anonymous said many will not be observing the occasion.

“We aren't having Losar. There's too much pressure on the monks and the common people, so we're having no Losar. Losar is our religious event. We shouldn't celebrate it.”

Many Tibetans around the world are following his lead, choosing to mark the first day of the new year, with protests. Tenzing Chompel, the president of the Taiwan Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, participated in a 12-hour hunger strike outside government offices in Taipei.

“Instead of celebrating, we decided…not to celebrate the Tibetan New Year. So we are here to protest.”

In Dharamsala, the Tibetan exile capital in northern India, Tibetans held scaled-back celebrations with their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Nawng Chodak, the Tibetan secretary of the religion and cultural department, says the celebrations at the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile will be low-key.

“We will do the ritual part of the celebrations of the Tibetan New Year. But we are not going to celebrate the Tibetan New Year in a normal way because lots of Tibetans have self-immolated themselves. So in support of their gesture, we are not going to celebrate.”

China accuses the Dalai Lama and other foreign groups of encouraging violence against Chinese authorities.