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Notes from Kham: Observations of a Police State

August 5, 2008

Students for a Free Tibet, Delhi (India)
August 3, 2008

Here in Lithang, a Khampa town in Eastern Tibet (present day western
Sichuan), fear and paranoia lingers in the air to a palpable degree.
I've never seen so many police and military personnel in one town in
my life. Nor have I experienced this kind of heart pounding fear
before. Last night, at around 11:40pm, I heard the police yell and
pound on each and every door at the guesthouse I was staying at. When
they got to my door, I was numb with fear. I was afraid because
foreigners are not permitted to enter the town I'm in. Also because
the US embassy in Chengdu suggested that I may very well be
'shadowed' and my email being monitored due to my involvement in
Dharamsala, so I am even a bit afraid writing this right now. Should
I stop writing out of fear for my own safety?

The embassy told me to watch our for a few signs: to look out for
guys looking too relaxed always hanging out and smoking a cigarette
in the corner and, precariously place objects on my laptop to check
if anyone snuck in to bug my electronics. Apparently all the embassy
employees have a 'shadower' and all their computers are bugged. Not
even the tech specialist there know the extent to which Chinese
Intellegence monitor their activity. They also told me, contrary to
what I thought, that I am not protected by my American passport since
I am traveling on my Taiwanese documents, since China also regards
Taiwan as one of its own provinces. So in the eyes of the PRC, they
are free to detain me upon any suspicion of 'inciting subversion',
which has been recently accused of many activists and writers in
China. There have been 3 cases of Taiwanese Americans detained by the
PSB in the last 2 years where the US embassy have not been allowed
any access to the detainee. But thankfully, the police left without
incidence since I played the ignorant tourist role. I found out the
next day that recently, the police have often raided hotels in search
for suspicious people. Hotels in the Tibetan areas of Western Sichuan
will also be shut down for the duration of the Olympics.

So how does the government instill fear into the hearts of the public
in order to make them obey? Along a long row of prayer wheels in the
town's temple, there is a big gap in the wall which looks like it was
left open on purpose. Through the gap, you can see military personnel
going about their business. 2 days ago, there was a big military
group assembling and polishing what looked like AK-47s rifles. All
this you can see as you circumambulate the stupa. You can also find
at least 2 guards standing behind sand bags with their rifles and
their sharp bayonets at every gas station. A Tibetan friend here told
me that military presence has stepped up big time, from minimal to
extensive after the protests in March and as the Olympics approach.
And you do see them around every corner, strolling around town and
patrolling the streets. Even though the vast majority of the town is
Tibetan, every single police and military personnel I've seen have
been Han. Actually, the only Chinese in town are either police or
business owners. I still haven't been able to find a restaurant
that's Tibetan run.

I counted today, and there are at least 7 police/public security
stations within a 1km radius, all with camouflaged rifle-clutching,
bullet-vested guards at the gates. In mainland China, it's estimated
that there is 1 police to every 14,000 people. In Tibet, it's about 1
police to every 20 people. But recently, in sensitive areas of
eastern Tibet, its as high as 1 police to 1 Tibetan. A few Tibetans
here have told me they are afraid since 5 Tibetans have disappeared
recently and they've heard no news on their whereabouts. While I hear
whispers of arrests, shootings and police brutality, the Chinese
people I've talked to denied anything having happened here. Their
sense of patriotism, especially when they commonly use the term 'us
Chinese' sickens me. I want to yell 'I'm not one of you' but I am,
ethnically. So I sit and listen and remind myself that the best way
to take down a fortress is from within.

What's been incredible to see is that people still hang Dalai Lama's
portrait on their walls and wear his image on the pendents of their
necklaces. The Tibetan woman who runs the guesthouse I'm staying at
told me that after the police threatened to close down her business
for having a large 11x14 portrait of His Holiness, she hesitantly
replace HHDL's photo with the late Panchen Lama, but she still put up
a small 4x6 photo of His Holiness on the corner. Despite the police
threat, she said her heart's not at peace if she doesn't have a photo
of His Holiness on the wall. It's a small but brave act of defiance.
I've also seen HHDL's photos in 2 monasteries in this region, which
I'm sure will change after the purge the Chinese government has
scheduled for the monasteries.

You can read about it in this article:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/2463385/China-plans-sweeping-purge-of-Tibetan-monasteries.html

The Above Note by my Close Friend Wen who was visiting Tibet to see
the situation prevailing there.Shortly after this note she was
detained in Kham and was in custody of PSB for 30 hrs and driven away
600 kilometers before being released.Now she is on her way back.

Another article about her experience in detention will be up shortly.
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