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Police out in force during Lhasa religious festival

Chinese police were out in force during a major religious festival in Tibet’s regional capital of Lhasa on Thursday, residents told Radio Free Asia.

It was the latest effort by China to suppress Tibetan religious and cultural expressions by sending a large police force to religious gatherings to surveil attendees. 

Marked by displays of butter lamps and candles, the Gaden Ngamchoe festival commemorates the death of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, a revered 14th century scholar. 

It is observed on the 25th day of the 10th month of the Tibetan calendar, which falls on Dec. 7 this year. 

 But police in Lhasa prevented followers from gathering in large numbers and restricted the number of those trying to go on a pilgrimage to the Jokang Temple and Potala Palace, a resident there told RFA Tibetan on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“The Chinese government has deployed police in great numbers, and checkpoints to screen and restrict the mass public gatherings to observe the Ganden Ngachoe prayer offerings in Lhasa,” the resident said. “Drones are used to track people’s movement.”

In video footage RFA obtained from a trusted source, a heavy police presence can be seen all around the Tsuglakhang Temple. The police use high beam flashlights to disperse the crowds around the temple and tell the devotees to keep moving. 

The enhanced surveillance came without warning, another resident said.

 “Without any prior announcement, the Chinese authorities are distressing devotees from entering Tsuglakhang Temple on this auspicious day,” the second resident said. “There are so many police deployed all around Tsuglakhang and police holding guns can also seen above the temple.” 

Though they were allowed to enter the temples, the police were there to ensure that the gatherings did not grow to be too big, the second resident said.

“They are dispersing the devotees in sections and screening us and checking our phones at the checkpoints.” 

 Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Edited by Eugene Whong.