Tibetan Social Media Draw Chinese Police Attention After Self-Immolations

Some Tibetans are closing their WeChat accounts to avoid scrutiny by authorities.

Bora monastery in Gansu province is shown in an undated photo.

A recent surge in self-immolation protests by Tibetans living in western Chinese provinces has brought a clampdown by authorities on internet communications, with police regularly monitoring social media sites for evidence of news-sharing outside the area, Tibetan sources say.

Many have now been detained for reporting politically sensitive developments with media contacts outside China, one former political prisoner told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“The authorities are watching and investigating, and recently took some individuals into custody,” RFA’s source said, speaking from Sichuan on condition of anonymity.

“I am very careful now in how I use WeChat,” the source said, referring to a popular Chinese social media platform. “Tibetan friends who were put into Chinese jails and then released are watched even more closely.”

“I don’t want to go back to a Chinese jail again,” he added. “That would be devastating for my family.”

Speaking to an RFA reporter, another former prisoner asked not to be contacted again via WeChat, citing fears for his personal safety.

“Intense restrictions” have left him unable now to talk even with chat-group members, who must reach out to him instead by phone, he said.

“Everyone must be very careful now,” RFA’s source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

“The authorities are exerting intense pressure on me, and are threatening that if I persist I could land in jail again. I have no choice but to close my WeChat account,” he said.

“Please accept my apologies. I wish you good luck!”

After a drop last year in the number of self-immolations by Tibetans challenging Chinese rule in Tibetan areas, four burnings took place in the first five months of 2017 alone, with two reported in Sichuan in March, and one in Qinghai and one near Bora monastery in Gansu, both in May.

The May 19 protest in Qinghai by 22-year-old monk Jamyang Losal brought to 150 the total number of self-immolations by Tibetans living in China since the wave of fiery protests began in 2009.

Police routinely clamp down on internet and telephone communications following self-immolations and other Tibetan protests challenging rule by Beijing, which controls China's media and forbids coverage of stories deemed politically sensitive.

Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.