In a release Thursday, the group confirmed sources as saying that the 17-year ban on portraits of the Tibetan leader, considered by China as a “splittist,” has been lifted in the Gaden monastery, one of Tibet’s oldest and largest institutions on learning.
However, Free Tibet added that it would be unwise to speculate on their implications regarding China’s policies in the restive region as the group hasn’t been able to confirm reports on whether the lift on the ban is an isolated case and extends beyond the Gaden monastery.
“Tibetans’ reverence for and loyalty to the Dalai Lama has almost no equal among the world’s communities and if this policy is extended beyond this individual monastery, as other reports suggest, it will be very significant for the Tibetan people,” Free Tibet Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said. “However, these reports remain unconfirmed and, in those circumstances, it would be unwise to speculate on their implications regarding China’s policies in Tibet. A local change in policy can easily be reversed.”
Although the group said that it has received reliable information about the policy change having been discussed at meetings in a number of locations in Tibet, it is yet to receive any reliable documentary evidence about the policy.
The ban on displaying the image of the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959, was introduced in 1996 as part of a crackdown on religious freedom, and was marked by violent clashes that resulted in the shooting of three monks, the group said. Until now, enforcement of the ban has been strictly applied.
“The underlying grievances of the Tibetan people remain the occupation of their country, abuse of their human rights, economic marginalisation and the denial of their right to self-determination,” Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said. “China has yet to demonstrate any willingness to address those fundamental issues.”
The removal of portrait ban in Gaden monastery follows recent reports of similar “experimental” changes in the policy in two isolated regions in eastern Tibet.
US based news portal RFA on Wednesday cited sources as saying that in Kardze region, “an announcement has been made stating that photos of the Dalai Lama may be displayed, and that the Dalai Lama should not be criticised by name.”
“Similar announcements will be made in all the monasteries in the Kardze area,” the same source said.
The International Campaign for Tibet on Thursday said in a report that “there has been no official announcement, both at the provincial and central level in China, about this reported new approach.”
“The Chinese authorities are known for practising alternate waves of concession and hardline policies, called fang-shou', meaning 'soft-hard,'” the US based group said. “This sometimes takes the form of backing off from stronger language after a propaganda offensive.”
Since 2009, as many as 119 Tibetans living under China’s rule have set themselves on fire demanding freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama from exile.
Scores of Tibetans have been arrested and disappeared for keeping portraits of the Dalai Lama in their phones or at homes, and singing songs or writing about the Tibetan spiritual leader who relinquished all his political authorities to the elected Tibetan leadership in 2011.