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Clampdown in Tibet

February 27, 2009

2009-02-24
Radio Free Asia

Chinese paramilitary police patrol in front of the Potala Palace in
Lhasa, June 20, 2008.

HONG KONG—Chinese authorities in Tibetan-populated regions have stepped
up travel restrictions in the wake of a series of Tibetan protests and
ahead of several politically sensitive dates.

Foreign tourists are being warned against traveling to Tibetan regions
of Sichuan, while foreign journalists are currently barred from entering
the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

Lhasa is now on full alert ahead of the Tibetan New Year or Losar, on
Feb. 25, and ahead of the one-year anniversary of riots that erupted in
Lhasa on March 14, 2008, and quickly spread throughout Tibetan regions
of China. March 10 also marks the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising
against Chinese rule that prompted the Tibetan spiritual leader, the
Dalai Lama, to flee into exile.

Authorities have created a blacklist, with foreign parliamentarians and
journalists banned from coming to Lhasa, at least not before early April.

There are some Tibetans causing trouble and this could affect people’s
safety."

Lithang source

“Chinese tourists still can visit Lhasa, but not foreigners or those who
hold foreign passports,” a travel agent in the Sichuan capital, Chengdu,
said.

“However, foreign tourists may be allowed to visit Lhasa after March
when we will get further information from our boss,” he said.

Tibetans in exile and in China plan to boycott upcoming New Year
celebrations in a gesture aimed at honoring Tibetans who died during
protests against Chinese rule in 2008.

The Dalai Lama, in a New Year message to the Tibetan people, expressed
his admiration for the move.

“Last year in Tibet we witnessed hundreds of Tibetans losing their
lives, and several thousands facing detention and torture, in response
to the widespread display by Tibetans all over Tibet of their
discontentment with the Chinese authorities' policies,” the Dalai Lama said.

“Therefore, since they faced immense difficulties and sufferings, the
occasion of this New Year is certainly not a period when we can have the
usual celebrations and gaiety,” he said. “I admire the determined move
by Tibetans, inside and outside of Tibet, not to indulge in celebratory
activities.”

But Chinese authorities are encouraging celebrations, and state-run
television has broadcast footage of dancers in traditional Tibetan garb
while an audience including monks applauded.

Blacklist, police presence

A source in Tibet said Chinese authorities had a “blacklist” of
sensitive professions banned from going to Lhasa.

“In order to maintain stability, foreign media and foreign
parliamentarians are barred from visiting Lhasa at this time,” the
source said.

Lhasa residents report a strong police presence on the streets.

“The situation gets more critical and serious every day,” one Lhasa
resident said.

“[The traditional pilgrimage route and market area of] Barkhor is packed
with soldiers as Losar and March approach,” the resident said, referring
to the traditional Tibetan New Year and the anniversary of protests
respectively.

“Walking about town is frightening,” said the Lhasa resident, who called
a listener hotline run by RFA’s Tibetan service.

“I saw with my own eyes, on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m., five students arrested by
soldiers for no particular reason. People are being detained randomly.
The students were 20-somethings, male. An army vehicle stopped by, and
they were thrown straight into the vehicle,” he said.

“Everyone who saw it said that was outright injustice. I think it was on
the same day when a state media tour was being conducted for journalists
from 10 countries.”

The caller added: “Usually, the government media will blast propaganda
about how normal and peaceful Lhasa is. But right now, the officers and
the authorities are showing very strong contempt for Tibetans. They’re
not bothering to hide it.”

He said no Tibetans from neighboring areas have been allowed into Lhasa
since Feb. 1.

“Ramoche temple area is packed with soldiers. Usually the Jokhang
[temple] is packed with pilgrims prostrating in front, now there are
barely anyone doing prostrations at the Jokhang,” he said.

A second Lhasa resident confirmed his account.

“There are many armed police on the streets,” he said. “Police will
search anyone they regard as suspicious, and they are checking people’s
papers.”

“There are more police patrolling the streets during the night than
during the day, and there are People’s Liberation Army soldiers still in
town,” he added.

Lithang tensions

Meanwhile, authorities in Sichuan’s Lithang [in Chinese, Litang], home
to large numbers of Tibetan nomads who stage frequent protests in
support of the Dalai Lama, were running checkpoints and controlling
people’s movements.

Tensions in Lithang were said to be running high over the weekend.

An official who answered the phone at the Lithang government offices
confirmed the roads were under police control, following demonstrations
by Tibetans.

Asked if many people took part, he replied, “Why don’t you go and ask
other departments?”

A source in Lithang said foreigners would be barred from entering the
area until after the sensitive March 14 anniversary had passed.

“Right now, the law and order situation isn’t very good,” the source said.

“There are some Tibetans causing trouble, and this could affect people’s
safety. Chinese people are being allowed in, though. It’s just
foreigners who aren’t allowed.”

“This has been going on since before the Lunar New Year,” he added.
“There was a point at which any cars going into Lithang would get
smashed up. Back then, none of us dared to take our cars into Lithang.”

Armed police were also out in force in Kardze [in Chinese, Ganzi], the
administrative capital of the Kardze region, where Lithang is situated,
Tibetan sources said.

"Kardze town is full of armed police and they are present in every nook
and corner of the town. But the Tibetans are still protesting," a
Tibetan source in the region said.

Most of the protests were by individuals or small groups of people, who
were swooped upon quickly and detained by police, witnesses said.

In Kardze, "several hundred armed police dressed in black clothes are
stationed at the monasteries and the Tibetan areas," the Tibetan source
said. "No Tibetans will be allowed to visit Kardze town after March 2,
unless they have written approval from local town officials."

Lithang was also the site of large-scale unrest in 2007 after a nomad,
Ronggyal Adrak, called publicly at the annual horse festival for Beijing
to allow the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. He was arrested, and
hundreds of Tibetan protested for his release.

Thousands of troops descended on the region in the aftermath of the
protest, and Ronggyal Adrak was convicted on charges of “seeking to
split the country and subvert state power.”

Exile government

A member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile based in the northern Indian
hill-town of Dharamsala said Chinese authorities are fearful ahead of
what they see as a sensitive time of year.

“They think that the harder they crack down, the more stable things will
be, but really the opposite is true,” the parliament member, Kelsang
Gyaltsen, said.

“According to Tibetan custom, if someone dies, then all the neighbors
have to go into mourning as well,” he said of the Losar celebrations.

“This means they don’t sing or dance or do anything like that. There
have been so many incidents in the past year, and last year was regarded
as a ‘black year,’ that many Tibetans simply won’t bother celebrating
their traditional new year at all.”

The Chinese government says 22 people died in last year's protests to
commemorate the 1959 uprising, but Tibetan rights advocates say many
more were killed, and that monks, nuns, and villagers were beaten,
fined, or jailed. State media say 76 people have been sentenced and more
than 950 detained.

Original reporting in Tibetan by Dolkar, in Mandarin by Qiao Long, and
in Cantonese by Lee Kin-kwan. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo.
Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director:
Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta
Mudie, Jia Yuan, and Karma Dorjee. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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