Tibetan Nomad Calling for Dalai Lama's Return Convicted of Subversion and Splittism

May 5, 2008

A court in Sichuan province convicted Tibetan nomad Ronggyal Adrag on October 29, 2007, on charges of attempting to "subvert state power" and "split the country" by standing before a crowd gathered at a horse-racing festival and yelling slogans calling for the Dalai Lama's return to Tibet and greater Tibetan freedoms, according to an October 30 Radio Free Asia (RFA) report. The judge presiding over the Ganzi (Kardze) Intermediate People's Court, located in Kangding (Dartsedo), the capital of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, said that sentencing would take place within six or seven days.

Convicting Ronggyal Adrag on the dual charges of "splittism" (Criminal Law, Article 103: "splitting the State or undermining unity of the country") and "subversion" (Article 105: "subverting the State power or overthrowing the socialist system") could result in an unusually long sentence that authorities may intend to serve as a warning to Tibetans that they must adhere to Communist Party policies on ethnic and religious issues. (See the CECC 2007 Annual Report for more information about Party policy and government implementation.) If Tibetans view his punishment as provocative, it may further increase regional tension. Ronggyal Adrag addressed the court, according to the RFA report, and explained the actions that led to his conviction:

  • The main reason was that there is nobody in Tibet who does not have faith in, loyalty to, and the desire to see the Dalai Lama. On the contrary, the Chinese government sends out propaganda saying that the Tibetans inside Tibet have no desire to meet him and have lost faith in him.

Ronggyal Adrag (or Runggye Adak) is the only ethnic Tibetan known to have been convicted on the charge of "subversion" since the Criminal Law was amended in 1997 to replace the crime of "counterrevolution" with "endangering state security," based on information in the CECC Political Prisoner Database (PPD). He is the first Tibetan convicted under the 1997 Criminal Law on charges of "subversion" as well as "splittism." If the court sentences Ronggyal Adrag under the "incitement" provisions for each charge, each charge can carry a sentence of not more than five years. But if the court sentences him for "organizing" or "plotting" a "major crime" under either charge, he could face a minimum sentence of 10 years or a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for that charge. Both articles provide for sentences of not less than 3 years and not more than 10 years for persons who "take an active part" in splittist or subversive activity. Web site operator Huang Qi, a resident of Sichuan's capital, Chengdu city, is the only other Chinese citizen known to have been convicted of both charges, according to the PPD. Huang served a five-year sentence and was released in 2005.

Procuratorates and courts nearly always apply the charge of splittism to ethnic Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongols, whom officials suspect of seeking to break up China through non-violent action. Courts have convicted 131 Chinese citizens of splittism under the 1997 Criminal Law, based on information about official charges in the PPD as of October 31, 2007. Huang Qi is the only known person convicted of splittism or undermining national unity who is not a Tibetan, Uighur, or Mongol. At the same time, courts rarely convict persons of such ethnic groups on the charge of subversion. Of 93 convictions on subversion charges, 1 was of a Tibetan (Ronggyal Adrag) and 2 were of Mongols (Badun and Xu Jian, both now released), based on PPD data for cases with adequate information. The total number of cases of imprisonment resulting from charges of splittism or subversion is higher, but information about official charges is not available for every case.

Ronggyal Adrag climbed onto the stage where officials attending the August 1 horse-races in Litang (Lithang) county were scheduled to speak and, according to an August 2 Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) report, shouted slogans calling for the Dalai Lama's return to Tibet, the release of Gedun Choekyi Nyima (the Panchen Lama identified by the Dalai Lama), and Tibetan independence. According to other reports (International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), 2 August 07; RFA, 2 August 07), he called for the Dalai Lama's return, freedom of religion, and the releases of the Panchen Lama and Tenzin Deleg. Ronggyal Adrag's statements may have been provoked by a petition drive conducted by Chinese officials who visited local monasteries in the weeks before the festival and told monks to sign a petition stating that they do not want the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, according to ICT reports on August 10 and October 8.

In an unusually swift and public response, a Xinhua report (reprinted in China Daily, 3 August 07) acknowledged that officials detained Ronggyal Adrag for "inciting separation of the nationalities," and that more than 200 Tibetans had gathered outside the detention center to call for his release. According to an August 24 ICT report, People's Armed Police (PAP) used tear gas and stun grenades on August 8 to disperse Tibetans who gathered peacefully near the horse-racing grounds to call for Ronggyal Adrag's release.

Information about 10 Tibetans detained in Lithang county during the period from mid-July through mid-October, based on RFA, ICT, and TCHRD reports, is available in the PPD. In addition to Ronggyal Adrag, at least five of the Tibetans are believed to remain detained: Adrug Lupoe, a Lithang Monastery monk and nephew of Ronggyal Adrag; Kunkhyen, a middle school teacher who may have had a video camera at the horse-racing festival; Adrug Kalgyam, a nomad who spoke out at a village patriotic education session, saying that Tibetans are not happy under Communist Party control; Lobsang Phuntsog, a Lithang Monastery monk who allegedly had photographs of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama in his room and who was associated with Kunkhyen; and Jamyang Tenzin, a monk of Yuru Monastery who argued with patriotic education instructors, saying that Tibetans do not have religious freedom or they would be able to display images of the Dalai Lama in their homes and monasteries. Other detentions have been reported but details about them remain incomplete.

In the weeks following Ronggyal Adrag's protest, officials moved "thousands" of PAP into Lithang county to reinforce security, according to a September 4 RFA report, and replaced Tibetan officials deemed to be insufficiently loyal with officials presumed to be Han Chinese, including the county Party secretary and the heads of the county government and public security bureau. According to an October 8 ICT report, Chinese Party officials presided over patriotic education sessions conducted in local government offices, with leaders of extended nomad families (clans), and at monasteries and schools. A Tibetan source told ICT, "The main points of the meetings are always the same: denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama, oppose the 'separatist clique,' of which [Ronggyal Adrag] is said to be a part, and finally, to be grateful to the Communist government." PAP were frequently present at such meetings, adding to the level of intimidation, according to the ICT source. Patriotic education instructors required schoolchildren to write essays denouncing the Dalai Lama and his supporters, according to the same report.

See Section IV, on "Tibet: Special Focus for 2007," in the CECC 2007 Annual Report, available on the Web site of the Government Printing Office (GPO), for more information. The Tibet section of the 2007 Annual Report is available as a reprint on the GPO Web site.