A young Tibetan detained by Chinese police for praying to the Dalai Lama has not been heard from after more than five months in custody, with his family now appealing to outside groups for help in calling attention to his case, Tibetan sources say.
Thubten Pema Lhundrub, a recent graduate from school, was detained on May 14 in Qinghai province’s Kangtsa (in Chinese, Gangsha) county after offering prayers to Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader on behalf of a friend who had recently died, a source living in the region told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“Initially, the police held him at the Themchen [Tianjun] county police station, but recently there has been no word about him,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“His parents are worried that something may have happened to him in detention, and they are beginning to doubt that he is still alive,” he said.
While he was detained, police had asked Lhundrub to spy on the social media conversations of other Tibetans, offering him payment of 6,000 yuan [US $850] per month, “but he refused to do the job, and after that nothing more was heard about his whereabouts or wellbeing,” the source said.
Lhundrub had been born into a poor family, and his mother passed away when he was three years old, the source said.
“But he was a very religious person, and he became a vegetarian. He was in poor health and suffering pain from gastritis when the Chinese police arrested him, and was waiting to receive his diploma when he was taken into custody,” he said.
“His relatives are now urging human rights groups to call attention to his case and raise the issue of his disappearance.”
Public prayers offered to the Dalai Lama in Tibetan areas of China are often harshly punished by Chinese authorities, who view the exiled spiritual leader as a dangerous separatist and symbol of Tibetan national and cultural identity.
The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising in Tibet against rule by China, which marched into the formerly independent Himalayan region in 1950, and public protests by Tibetans often feature calls for his return.
Reported by Chakmo Tso for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.