All dressed in white, many of them came as a family, most of them very young, they began by singing the prayer of refuge to Buddha, before singing the Tibetan anthem, then La Marseillaise. Bouquets of flowers in hand, Tibetans from all over Europe – Belgium, Switzerland, Spain… – gathered in Paris, Sunday July 17, for a white march of unprecedented magnitude. According to internal intelligence, they were around 7,000, perhaps 10,000 according to representatives of the Tibetan community in France. Between Place de la Bastille and the Republic, in peace, they wanted to pay tribute to one of their own, killed by three men from the Chinese community, Monday July 11, in Normandy.
“We had never experienced anything like it, it’s really a shock,” said Rigzin Genkhang, representative of the Dalai Lama in Europe, to Le Monde, faced with the scale of the mobilization. Coming from Brussels, this official called “everyone to calm and restraint”. “Contain your emotions,” urged the president of the Tibetan community of France, Karma Tinlay.
Tsultrim Nomjour Tsang, a young man of 32, received a fatal stab wound to the side in front of the restaurant Les Délices d’Asie, which had employed him for a week in Saint-Léonoard, near Fécamp. He would have arrived a quarter of an hour late to take his service. His attackers, the two managers of the establishment and an employee, were indicted for intentional homicide and imprisoned, as part of the investigation opened by the prosecutor of Le Havre.
Thursday, July 14, a hundred Tibetans, who had made the trip from Paris, Rennes, Nantes, Marseille, or Toulouse, had, despite the instructions of their community representatives, gone to the scene. Their intention was to pay a first tribute and they were well received by the neighborhood, provide testimonies collected by Le Monde on Sunday. But when they discovered traces of blood still present on the ground, and when they learned that the body of their compatriot had been placed in a plastic bag near the garbage room by the attackers, they would have seen red and started to ransack the restaurant.
According to his widow, who, with red eyes, carried his portrait at the head of the procession for two hours, Tsultrim arrived in France in 2019. Like many Tibetans, he fled a country – an “autonomous region” for China – cut off by Beijing, which is eradicating its culture and language. “The problem of young people arriving in France is that they don’t speak our language and often have the only solution to work in Chinese restaurants where they are not always well treated”, explains Céline Menguy, press officer from the Tibet office in Paris.
Between 8,000 and 10,000 Tibetans live in France, three quarters are political refugees. This would form the first community in Europe, before Switzerland and Belgium, according to Ms. Genkhang, who evokes the project of a more complete census in Europe. In recent years, Beijing has tightened its repression and now prohibits any exit from Tibet. If they were nearly 3,000 to leave their native land in 2008 via India, they are only… three since the beginning of 2022.
The murder of Saint-Léonard deeply shook the community. Many refer to “the event too many”, in an increasingly tense political context which sees Beijing increasing its pressure on its diasporas. “We fled Tibet for political reasons, to join a free country here”, testifies in his language Tsering, 32, met during the white march. “For the Chinese to do this is a direct blow to our hearts. We are coming together to make sure this doesn’t happen again. »
Ugen-Tenzing Nubpa, Tibetan representative for Switzerland, believes like many that the case goes beyond a simple news item. “That the Chinese kill Tibetans in Tibet, occupied territory, it is common. In France, in Europe, this is a first. It is difficult to say if this is a racist act. But we have been asking for justice for Tibet for sixty years, and now there is a form of urgency, we have taken a step. We are a nonviolent people and we demand justice. »
“This case rekindles their pain”
The six community associations which organized the demonstration on Sunday (another is planned in Fécamp on Monday July 18) wish to prevent the situation from escalating. “People are in great tension. All those who work in Chinese restaurants say they are concerned and no longer feel safe,” said Thupten Gyatso, deputy of the Tibetan parliament in exile. In Paris, dozens of them have decided not to go to work for a month, he says. “There are disputes between employees and employers. But we have always encouraged Tibetans to defend themselves within the framework of labor law.”
The representative of the Dalai Lama in Europe underlines that her compatriots are rather reluctant to demonstrate ordinarily, in particular to commemorate each March 10 the 1959 uprising in favor of independence. “There is pressure from the Chinese authorities against the families left in Tibet who can no longer express themselves. In Europe, some Tibetans are summoned by the embassy on the pretext of providing documents. Others have their passports confiscated for months or even years. This case rekindles their pain,” she recalls. “But the policy of the Tibetan administration remains one of dialogue. Even if the authorities don’t listen to us, we are not against the Chinese people. »