Police in south India’s Tamil Nadu state have detained nine Tibetan activists for organizing a protest, days ahead of a planned visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to hold bilateral talks with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fellow activist said Tuesday.
On Oct. 6, Tamil Nadu police detained eight Tibetan activists representing the Members of Tibetan Students Association of Madras (TSAM), Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), and Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), TSAM vice president Tenzin Choedon told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
The activists had planned to hold a protest in the small Tamil Nadu town of Mamallapuram, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Chennai in southern India, where Xi and Modi are scheduled to meet on Oct. 11-13 amid recent strains in the Sino-Indian relationship over trade and border disputes.
According to Choedon, TSAM’s president was taken into custody and is being held at the St. Thomas Mount Police Station.
“The rest of the activists were captured later, though they are all detained at the St. Thomas Mount Police Station as of now,” he said.
The arrests came a day after police took into custody prominent Tibetan writer and activist Tenzin Tsundue at Kottakuppam in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district for allegedly having “Free Tibet” publicity materials in his possession, according to the Indian press, which said he was sent to Chennai’s Puzhal Central jail on Oct. 6.
Media reports said police detained 42 Tibetans in all, but let most of them go after they signed agreements to refrain from demonstrating and maintain peace.
Officers took Choeden and 13 other Tibetan students studying in Chennai to a police station for verification and forced them to sign agreements, Choedon said.
“They took our pictures too,” he added.
Gonpo Dhondups, president of the Dharamsala, India-based TYC, told RFA’s Tibetan Service that his organization called on the Human Rights Law Network to appeal for the release of the detained Tibetan activists.
“The lawyers have commenced the appeal, but they are not hopeful about getting them released until Xi Jinping’s return [to China],” he said.
“The FIR filed will proceed accordingly thereafter,” he added, referring to the First Information Report, a complaint lodged with police to set the process of criminal justice in motion and trigger an investigation.
Anti-China protests by Tibetans in India are common, said Manoj Joshi, an expert on national and international politics at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
“Tibetans have been protesting whenever there is an official visit from China,” he said. “This is not something new.”
Tibetans have long opposed what they see as Beijing’s oppressive religious and social policies and rule in Tibetan areas of the western part of China, often going to the extreme of setting themselves on fire in protest.
China, in turn, vehemently rejects the exiled Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as his middle-way approach through dialogue with Beijing to grant Tibet genuine autonomy within the framework of the People’s Republic of China rather than independence.
“India cannot get involved between the Dalai Lama and China,” Joshi said. “However, I think it’s foolish of China to not accept the proposal because His Holiness the Dalai Lama has categorically said that he is not seeking independence but rather a middle-ground approach to settle the problem.”
“China’s version of calling minority communities like those in Xinjang and Tibet ‘autonomous’ has a completely different meaning, and therefore, the problem has always been with China,” he said.
The upcoming meeting will be the second informal summit between Modi and Xi following one in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei province, in April 2018.