Almost two weeks before the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday on 6 July, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has started preventing public celebrations and detaining people for sharing photos online. Tsering Dondrub, 25, was detained for posting images of the Tibetan flag and the Dalai Lama on WeChat. It is unknown where he is being detained or how he is being treated. The secret detention of Tibetans arrested for exercising their human rights is common and family members only learn about the specifics of the case and see their imprisoned relatives at their trial, if it is ever held.
The detention of Tsering Dondrub, follows established patterns of human rights violations in Tibet. WeChat is closely watched by the PRC and Tibetans can be arrested and given severe prison sentences for sharing material on WeChat. In the weeks leading up to the Dalai Lama’s birthday PRC officials are tightening already existing restrictions in Tibet. Tibetans in Tsering Dondrub’s village in Rebgong (Ch: Tongren) County in Malho (Ch: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province were prevented from participating in a variety of events on 21 June to commemorate the Dalai Lama’s birth year. (According to Tibetan lunar calendar, the Dalai Lama turned 80 on 21 June.) The public was also banned from attending events at monasteries and could have their phones confiscated and searched. The detention of Tsering Dondrub may well be the tip of the iceberg, and more Tibetans may have been detained or are in danger of getting detained since it has increasingly become a standard practice for the local Chinese authorities to punish Tibetans when the world is not watching.