Chinese authorities in Tibet have set up new controls on the flow of information online, as challenges to Beijing’s rule in Tibetan areas begin to spread from western Chinese provinces to Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, sources say.
At the same time, sources said, authorities have begun a new program of forced denunciations of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama accompanied by the granting of public awards to “law-abiding” monks and nuns.
The moves came before the self-immolation Sunday of two young Tibetan men in front of Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple—the first self-immolation protests reported in the Tibetan capital, resulting in a security clampdown.
Nearly all the 35 previous self-immolations by Tibetans pushing for an end to Beijing's rule and the return of the Dalai Lama have been in Tibetan-populated regions of western China.
In controlling the flow of information to Tibet, authorities have been especially anxious to prevent the spread of self-immolation protests from those areas.
Following a meeting on April 20, the Lhasa branch of China’s Public Security Bureau (PSB) created a special unit to monitor the online activities of Tibetans living in the Tibet Autonomous Region, a Tibetan source in Nepal said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The main purpose of this new wing of the Lhasa PSB is to monitor and curb the online activities of Tibetans, prevent online access to sensitive information, and stop the online dissemination of news and information.”
Staffed by computer experts, teachers, and handwriting experts, the new unit—called the PSB Public Information Network Security Monitor—will also watch the online publications and activities of Tibetans living in exile, the source said.
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities in Tibet have begun a campaign of presenting awards to Buddhist monks and nuns deemed loyal to the Chinese state, sources say.
“They call the monks and nuns from monasteries and nunneries around Lhasa to meetings and force them to sign or place their fingerprint on statements renouncing ‘separatism’ and the Dalai Lama,” a Tibetan in Lhasa said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The Chinese authorities apply forceful pressure to the monks and nuns until they give in and sign, and after obtaining these signatures under coercion, the authorities then exhibit those monks and nuns on national television,” he said.
“They are surrounded on all sides by officials, but at the conclusion of the meeting when reporters ask them about their love for China, they don’t say a word,” he said.
Speaking in an interview, Columbia University Tibet scholar Robbie Barnett said that following a first distribution at the end of April, the giving of awards to individual monks and nuns is being presented as “something that will happen repeatedly.”
“It’s part of the instructions that have been given as part of a comprehensive monastery management system.”
The system includes a variety of incentives, Barnett said.
“[But] one ultimate reward is that a monastery that has achieved what seems to be an acceptable level of proven ‘patriotism’ is allowed to have its own ‘democratic management committee’ without a central supervising committee of Chinese cadres,” he said.
Reported by Norbu Damdul and Thubten Sangye for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Benpa Topgyal and Dorjee Damdul. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.