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Tibetan festival allowed by China to resume after 20-year ban

A Tibetan community festival, banned for 20 years after the arrest of a popular religious leader, has been allowed by Chinese authorities to resume with no  explanation given for the sudden lifting of control, Tibetan sources say.

The annual event held in Nyagchuka (in Chinese, Yajiang) county in Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, formerly a part of historic Tibet, features horse races and picnics, a Tibetan living exile told RFA, citing local sources.

“But since 2002, the year when Tulku Tenzin Delek was arrested on a charge of bombing a public square, the Chinese authorities had barred Tibetans in the region from celebrating the annual event,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We don’t know why the authorities have suddenly allowed the festival to be held again,” the source said. Authorities had hoisted Chinese flags around the festival grounds before allowing the event to be held, though, he added.

“In earlier years, when Tulku Tenzin Delek was there, people were forbidden to indulge in alcohol, smoking or taking drugs at the picnic, but this year everything was allowed,” the source said.

The annual festival was a major gathering in the region even before the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, the source said. “But it became even grander after Tulku Tenzin Delek lived there. During the picnic, religious teachings were given and plays were performed on the life of the Tibetan yogi and poet Milarepa.”

“There was so much respect for Tulku Tenzin Delek.”

Mysterious death in prison

Tulku Tenzin Delek, 65, died under mysterious circumstances on July 12, 2015, 13 years into a 22-year sentence following what rights groups and supporters called a wrongful conviction on a charge of bombing a public square in Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu in April 2002.

Widely respected among Tibetans for his efforts to protect Tibetan culture and the environment, he was initially sentenced to death, but his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. An assistant, Lobsang Dondrub, was executed almost immediately, prompting an outcry from rights activists who questioned the fairness of the trial.

Chinese authorities now remove all references to Tulku Tenzin Delek from official histories of the region and in January seized a life-size statue of the religious leader that was being taken into Tibet, arresting those involved in the statue’s manufacture and transport, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Formerly an independent country, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force more than 70 years ago. Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on Tibetan areas of western China, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, sources say.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA Tibetan. Written in English by Richard Finney.