DHARAMSHALA: Hundreds of armed forces, particularly the People’s Armed Police, were deployed at the immensely popular annual horse-racing festival at Machu (Chinese: Maqu) county in Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province, on 12 August this year, as local authorities were apprehensive of Tibetans staging protests and self-immolations at the public event.
In addition to unprecedented presence of armed security personnel, the local authorities also issued a public notice containing 11 points that essentially ask Tibetans to refrain from using the annual event to express their grievances in public.
The notice, issued in both Tibetan and Chinese language, barred anyone from carrying ‘flammable’ and ‘poisonous’ objects and engaging in protest activities at the event venue, and added that violating the rules listed in the notice would attract punishment ranging from ‘detention’ to prosecution in the courts.
In Point no. 10 of the notice, activities such as ‘demonstrations, protests, appeals, self-injury, suicide, self-immolation’ and ‘beating, smashing, and looting’ were deemed ‘illegal’ and therefore banned at the event. Point no. 6 banned objects such as ‘fire crackers, flammable liquids, bows and arrows, swords and other objects made of iron, as well as poisonous substances.’ Point no. 5 banned anyone from carrying documents and leaflets relating to political, religious, cultural and economic matters to the venue without prior permission from the relevant authorities.
The last point listed punishment for those who violate the rules: those committing ‘medium-range offence’ would get ‘detentions’ while those engaging in bigger criminal offense be taken to court and sentenced accordingly.
The notice, applicable to both participants and spectators at the event, further stated that whoever violated the rules would be barred from the festival in future and corresponding actions would be taken according to the law of the government. The Machu Horse-racing Festival is one of the most popular and largest annual events in the Tibetan province of Amdo. Attended by thousands of people from all over Tibet and China, the event was not held for several years since widespread protests broke out in 2008 in Tibet.
“In the notice, China has stated several points but the main issue is they are afraid that Tibetans might protest against the government and they are warning us not to set ourselves ablaze or protest against the government,” Dolkar Kyap, a Machu native and member of Tibetan Parliament in exile told TCHRD.
In March this year, Chinese authorities in Kanlho issued a public notice in all eight counties of the prefecture, that discouraged any kind of anti-government protest, and instead encouraged the general public to secretly report to the police any ‘illegal’ activities aimed at harming ‘social stability and national unity.’