Supporters of Tibet marched across the country and in cities around the world Friday to mark the 58th anniversary of a Tibetan rebellion against Chinese occupying forces.
From Tokyo to Toronto, London to New York City, thousands hit the streets in more than 100 rallies to remember the day Tibetans surrounded the summer palace of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, amid fears that Chinese troops planned to kidnap him.
March 10, 1959, later became known as Tibetan National Uprising Day. Seven days later, the Dalai Lama escaped Lhasa and made passage to India where he has lived in exile ever since.
“Generally speaking, March 10th is a day to really sort of rile people up every year,” Sonamtso, the U.S.A. grassroots coordinator for Students for a Free Tibet, told NBC News. “But I think something that stood out this year was an emphasis of unity both within different types of Tibetan communities, but also with our allies.”
Among those allies, she said, are supporters of a free Tibet, including some members of Congress, as well as residents of Taiwan and Hong Kong, both of which have found themselves at odds with China.
Relations have long been strained between Tibet and China, which invaded Tibet in 1950. Tibetans have claimed persistent political and religious persecution at the hands of the Chinese government, a charge Beijing has denied. China has called its takeover of Tibet a “peaceful liberation.”
At the New York City rally, several thousand demonstrators marched from Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge to the United Nations, where speakers addressed the crowd, according to Sonamtso, who asked that her last name not be published because she still has family in Tibet.
Waving Tibetan flags and carrying handmade signs calling for a free Tibet, marchers flanked by New York City police officers navigated busy city sidewalks as they made their way to the Chinese consulate on Twelfth Avenue on the West Side of Manhattan.
Outside, more speakers addressed the crowd, Sonamtso said. One of the themes this year, she said, was to call for free media in Tibet, an autonomous region of China. Freedom House, a nonprofit, labeled Tibet “not free” as of 2017.
“The common sentiment was how important it is for Tibetans and our supporters to continue staying resilient and for us to continue resisting,” Sonamtso said.
The march in New York was supposed to end with a candlelight vigil in Jackson Heights, Queens, home to a large Tibetan community, but it was cancelled because of inclement weather.
That, however, did not squelch the message of participants.
“We as people who live in the quote free world, it’s our responsibility to stand up for our brothers and sisters and amplify their voices from inside of Tibet,” Sonamtso said.