On 1 August 2007, Runggye Adak, a nomad from Lithang in eastern Tibet, stepped onstage at an official function at the Lithang Horse Racing Festival, to present a ceremonial khatag to the chief Lama of Lithang monastery.
When on stage Runggye Adak boldly grabbed the microphone and addressed a crowd of several thousand Tibetans who had gathered for the annual festival. He said: “If we cannot invite the Dalai Lama home, we will not have freedom of religion and happiness in Tibet.” He also called for the release of the Panchen Lama and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. The crowd applauded loudly.
An eyewitness said: “It all happened so fast – Runggye Adak just came onstage and started speaking… Quite a few people were cheering him… But then uniformed officers arrived and… took him away, and other people around me were saying how scared they were about his fate.”
The Chinese government described this action as a “major political incident” and charged Runggye Adak with “provocation to subvert state power”. He was sentenced to eight years in prison along a number of other Tibetans who were sentenced for between 3 and 10 years for “endangering national security”; they had attempted to provide pictures and information to foreign media.
In response to Adak’s arrest, over two hundred Tibetans congregated outside Lithang police station to appeal for his release; some managed to get inside and demanded to speak to local officials. Eye-witnesses described how police and soldiers violently dispersed local gatherings in Lithang by using tear gas, stun grenades and metal batons. Hundreds of local government officials were subsequently ordered to attend meetings to condemn Adak’s actions. Read more about this photo
On 3 August 2007, Xinhua released a statement that said “the villager named Runggye Adak went to a platform…and shouted out words of ‘Tibetan independence’ and police sources said they would handle the case of Runggye Adak, whose words and deeds were meant to separate the country and harm national unity and has disrupted public order, according to law.”
When Runggye Adak was sentenced he is reported to have told the court: “I wanted His Holiness to return, and I wanted to raise Tibetan concerns and grievances, as there is no outlet for us to do so. That made me sad and made me act.”
The International Campaign for Tibet reported that several weeks earlier, the Chinese authorities had circulated a petition at Lithang monastery which monks were required to sign, saying that they did not want the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. The organization speculated that this incident may have provoked Runggye Adak into taking action.
Eye-witnesses also say that Runggye Adak’s speech called for local Tibetans to stop fighting among themselves about land and water issues – a reference to fights that have broken out among Tibetan nomads, often following the division of their land by the authorities in accordance with Beijing’s directives. It is China’s stated policy to remove Tibetan nomads from the land and settle them in towns, thereby imperiling their livelihoods and their culture, and threatening the survival of the rangelands on the roof of the world. This policy is leading to increased desertification and exacerbating the impact of global warming. In this age of climate change, Tibetans and their centuries-old knowledge of the Tibetan environment need to be involved in all aspects of restoration and stewardship of the ecosystems and ecosystem services of the Tibetan Plateau.