Chinese police arrested a 20-year-old woman named Youdon this week for possessing a photograph of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, a source inside Tibet confirmed to RFA.
Youdon was reportedly arrested on July 11, as Chinese authorities ramped up their crackdown on Tibetans in the days surrounding the Dalai Lama’s 87th birthday on July 6, which many Tibetans celebrated despite heavy restrictions.
The police “accused Youdon of acting together with her sister Zumkar for keeping a photo of the Dalai Lama in their home. Youdon is Zumkar’s younger sister,” the source said. Zumkar was arrested on June 23.
Youdon was arrested in her hometown of Tsarang Township, Amdo County in Tibet’s Nagchu region.
The source also told RFA that Youdon is currently being detained in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, but that no further details were available. Zumkar, 27, was the first to be arrested when police found a photo of the Dalai Lama on an altar, a sacred part of Tibetan households where religious objects like statues and scriptures are kept, and prayers are offered.
Another source, living in exile outside of Tibet, also confirmed Youdon’s arrest to RFA.
Last year RFA reported the arrests of 20-30 Tibetans around the time of the Dalai Lama’s 86th birthday.
Other residences in the area are also known to have been investigated by the Chinese authorities for having images of the Dalai Lama, who Beijing argues is a separatist leader calling for Tibetan independence.
The Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), which represents Tibetans-in-exile, advocate a political solution where Tibet would remain part of China, but where Tibetans would maintain a level of autonomy over their own cultural and linguistic affairs.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government has intensified its campaigns against Tibetans by punishing them for the possession of banned photographs that include pictures of the Dalai Lama, as well as cracking down on the speaking and teaching of Tibetan language.
Despite increased security, a source told RFA that Tibetans inside Tibet “who write essays and articles in praise of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the occasion, and the articles are widely read and shared on social media.”
The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists around the world, and is a global representative advocating for the protection of Tibetan culture, language, and history.
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.
Displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo, public celebrations of his birthday, and the sharing of his teachings on mobile phones or other social media are often harshly punished.
Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on Tibet and on Tibetan-populated regions of western China, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to imprisonment, torture, and extrajudicial killings.
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