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The Speech that Portended the Tibetan Uprising Made Public

August 7, 2010

By Rebecca Novick
The Huffington Post
August 6, 2010

It could be argued that the Tibetan uprising of
2008 actually began several months earlier with
what appeared to be an impromptu public address
by a middle-aged Tibetan nomad. Until now, no one
had seen footage of his defiant speech that was
released this week for the first time by Tibet rights groups.

On August 1st 2007, thousands of Tibetans were
attending the famous summer horse festival in
Lithang County in the Tibetan region of Kham (Ch.
Sichuan province). The horses are more like
ponies, but the skill of their riders is
impressive. At full gallop, the Khampa horsemen
lean precariously sideways off the saddle, flop
to the ground with arms dragging in the dust
behind them and unprotected heads inches from the
earth, and somehow manage to regain an upright position.

Banned during the Cultural Revolution, the
festival has since been co-opted by Chinese
authorities to celebrate the founding of the
People's Liberation Army, the military arm of the
Chinese government and the largest military force
in the world. The year 2007 marked the PLA's 80th
anniversary. It was a big deal in China, observed
with glitzy musical stage productions re-enacting
highlights of the army's history (minus 1989
Tiananmen) and rousing political speeches
promoting its "glorious achievements". Snazzy new
uniforms had even been specially tailored to mark the occasion.

But this atmosphere of Chinese national pride was
about to be roundly disturbed at the Lithang
horse festival by a 53-year-old nomad from rural
Tibet. His name was Runngye Adak, and just before
the official function began, he jumped up on
stage and grabbed the microphone. Addressing the
audience, he coolly but firmly voiced a number of
grievances that were all articulated later in the
protests that broke out the following Spring in
Lhasa, and which spread across the entire Tibetan plateau.

A Western filmmaker, who requested anonymity,
captured part of Adak's speech on video. Not
knowing the language, he had no idea as to the
significance of what he was filming. The tape was
overlooked for years, but the footage has now
been made public (with English subtitles) by
Tibet support organizations to coincide with the
third anniversary of the event. View footage here.

"...These things have happened to us; did you
hear what has happened to us? Although we can
move our bodies, we cannot express what is in our
hearts. You know? These days there are those who
say we don't need the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama
is the one that we six million Tibetans truly [need]"

According to eye witnesses, Adak, cutting a
striking figure in a white cowboy hat and
traditional chupa slung over his shoulder, called
for the release of political prisoners such as
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Dalai Lama's candidate
for Panchen Lama, and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a
highly respected monk and community leader, who
is currently serving a life sentence on the
dubious charge of "conspiring to cause
explosions". Witnesses report Adak also saying
that the Dalai Lama should return to Tibet. It
seems that the nomad had taken the security
personnel by surprise and was able to complete
his address to roars of approval from the crowd
before he was arrested by armed police.

China's Communist Party mouthpiece, Xinhua, said
that hundreds of Tibetans gathered outside the
local jail to demand Runggye Adak's release. The
Associated Press later reported that scores of
people were arrested in the aftermath.

Runggye Adak, known as a respected local figure
and father of eleven, was charged with
"provocation to subvert state power," and was
indicted by the Kardze Intermediate People's
Court on four counts ranging from disruption of
law and order to state subversion. He was
subsequently sentenced to eight years
imprisonment with deprivation of political rights
for four years. According to Radio Free Asia,
during the trial, the judge stated that by
calling for the Dalai Lama's return, Adak had
"committed the crime of subverting the People's Republic of China."

In response, Runggye Adak told the court, "I
wanted to raise Tibetan concerns and grievances,
as there is no outlet for us to do so." He went
on to say there is no one in Tibet who does not
have faith in, loyalty to or the heartfelt wish
to see the return of the Dalai Lama. He countered
"propaganda" by the Chinese authorities that
Tibetans have lost faith in the Dalai Lama,
saying: "That is wrong, but we have no freedom to say so."

Adak's nephew, Adak Lopoe, was given ten years,
and an art and music teacher named Kunkhyen was
given nine years, both for crimes of endangering
national security--in other words, for trying to
inform the outside world about Adak's protest.

Runngye Adak's actions were labeled a "major
political incident" by China's central
government, but to Tibetans he became an instant
hero. For a few minutes, an uncensored voice had
been heard that mirrored their secret dreams and burning resentments.

The nomad's plea inspired renewed resistance to
China's control in Lithang, which resulted in the
harshest crackdown the region had seen in
decades. A rigorous smear campaign against the
Dalai Lama met with dismal failure, and was
further hindered two months later by the
conferring of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal
on the Dalai Lama by President George W. Bush,
which Tibetans celebrated as a personal victory.

Said President of the International Campaign for
Tibet, Mary Beth Markey, "Criminalizing devotion
to the Dalai Lama has been the undoing of their
[Chinese authorities] efforts to win the hearts
and minds of Tibetans and certainly contributed
to the anger that erupted in March 2008."

According to ITSN, a global coalition of Tibet
support organizations, Runggye Adak's family has
only been able to visit him once in the past
three years and there are currently fears for his
health. He is serving out his sentence in
Mianyang Prison, Sichuan Province, the same
prison as Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, the monk whose
release he had called for in his courageous stand for freedom.
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