In June 2019, Lobsang Lhundup, a Tibetan intellectual and former monk who writes under the pen name Dhi Lhaden, was detained by the Chinese authorities. His whereabouts remain unknown and there are concerns for his welfare. Lhundup, the author of two books circulated underground in Tibet, had been teaching at a private cultural education centre in Chengdu, the capital of western China’s Sichuan province, which has a large Tibetan population.
According to Tibet Watch, a London-based charity that promotes the human rights of the Tibetan people, the Chinese authorities routinely crack down on Tibetan writers, intellectuals and artists. Even the most moderate or mild expression of cultural or religious identity can be characterised as a crime. In 2008, Lhundup travelled to several places in Tibet, a dangerous initiative to take at the time, as a wave of peaceful protests swept across the region.
Following these protests, there was a vibrant literary and cultural resurgence in Tibet, led by writers, singers and educators and grounded in a strong sense of Tibetan identity. According to the International Campaign for Tibet, a US-based group, young Tibetans represent a more profound challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party than older generations. The cultural resurgence has provoked a backlash. For the first time since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, singers, artists and writers have been the target of a drive against Tibetan culture in which almost any expression of Tibetan identity not validated by the state can be branded ‘splittist’.
Lhundup was born in 1971, in Dida village, Qinghai province. At the age of thirteen, he enrolled as a monk in the local monastery and after two years went to study at the famous Buddhist institute of Larung Gar in Serthar, Sichuan province, where he later taught the Tibetan language, history and Buddhism. He carried on his teaching activities at some of the most important and influential monasteries, including the Kirti monastery in eastern Tibet, where a wave of self-immolations began in 2009.
Lhundup, who has since disrobed as a monk, has a wife and young daughter and has written and published several books and articles. His first book, Tsesok Le Trun Pe Kecha, was published in English with the title Words Uttered with Life at Risk by the India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in 2011. His second book, Tungol Trimtug, was published in English as The Art of Passive Resistance in 2015. In his writings, Lhundup explores such themes as the rule of law, freedom, peace, equality and non-violent opposition, and advocates the approach taken by individuals known for their peaceful resistance, such as the Dalai Lama, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He has always emphasised that he bears no grudge towards the Chinese people and wishes to uphold Chinese law in his peaceful struggle to protect Tibet’s cultural identity.
In Tungol Trimtug, Lhundup writes,
I am an ordinary man and a devout Buddhist from the Land of Snows. I believe in peace, non-violence, karma and the Middle Way. I don’t hold any grudges against other nationalities. I don’t have any wish to destroy the Chinese government or the Chinese people. I don’t think any Tibetan holds such a wish. Our goal is to establish equality and peaceful co-existence between the Chinese and Tibetan nationalities … What we demand are equal rights and freedom. Our goal is not to seek revenge. This is the basis of our non-violent movement.
Lhundup says that he felt compelled to speak out because otherwise ‘our cherished religion, language, literature and tradition will end up like the proverbial “butter lamp in the wind”.’
Readers might like to send appeals expressing serious concern at the detention of Lobsang Lhundup, in violation of his right to freedom of expression, and calling for his immediate and unconditional release; urging the Chinese authorities to cease the harassment and persecution of Tibetan writers, intellectuals and artists; and calling for the authorities to abide by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was signed by the People’s Republic of China in October 1998.
Appeals to be addressed to:
His Excellency Ambassador Zheng Zeguang
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
49–51 Portland Place
London W1B 1JL
His Excellency Xi Jinping
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council, Beijing 100032
People’s Republic of China
Fax: +86 10 6238 1025
Update: PEN has expressed concern about the health of Azerbaijani reporter and human rights lawyer Elchin Mammad (LR, June 2020), who is serving a four-year prison sentence after being convicted of trumped-up charges of theft and illegal possession of weapons. His family has reported that his health has seriously deteriorated while in detention. Mammad is ill with hepatitis C, has lost a significant amount of weight and is not receiving the medical treatment that he needs. On 7 July, the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan upheld Mammad’s prison sentence. His lawyer said he would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. PEN continues to call for his immediate and unconditional release. Readers can send solidarity messages to:
Prison No 16 of the Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice
Yeni Ramana Road
Baku, Sabunchu, AZ1128
Readers can send messages calling for his immediate release via the Azerbaijani government’s contact form (en.president.az/letters/new_form) and via Twitter (@presidentaz).