Lhasa 'Like a Vast Prison'

Chinese authorities set up body scanners and monitor phone calls in the Tibetan capital.
2012-08-23
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Young military recruits gather for a ceremony in Beijing prior to their departure for Tibet, Nov. 20, 2011.
AFP

Chinese authorities have implemented a massive security clampdown in Lhasa, pouring police into the Tibetan capital and setting up checkpoints with airport-style body scanners in busy downtown areas, residents said on Thursday.

"Lhasa city has been turned into a large prison," one Tibetan resident of Lhasa told RFA's Tibetan service. "There are police everywhere in groups of 10 or more with rifles, batons, and fire extinguishers on each of them."

She said police had set up security checkpoints for pedestrians near the popular tourist area of the Barkhor Market and the pilgrimage route around the city's central Jokhang Temple.

"Body scanning checkpoints have been installed at different points, and Tibetans are being regularly scanned and checked," she said, adding that  body scanning gates had been set up around the Potala Palace, the former residence of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

A second Tibetan resident said that Tibetans arriving from out of town were being denied entry to the city.

However, this same treatment wasn't being extended to Han Chinese, who have poured into the Himalayan region since the completion of the Golmud-Lhasa railroad in 2006.

"They are stopping the Tibetans at the gates, while the Chinese are free to go anywhere and enter from everywhere in Lhasa," he said.

"Tibetan villagers from the Lhasa area cannot enter from Yukhu or Kuru Bridge, so the real victims are the Tibetans."

Simmering tensions

He said that Tibetans from other Tibetan regions in southwestern China had been expelled from Lhasa and sent home, unless they were able to show a residence permit for the city.

"All those without permits have been sent back to their hometowns," the man said. "Lhasa is overflowing with Chinese, and the Tibetans cannot get involved in arguments with them."

He said that ethnic tensions are simmering below the surface of the order imposed by armed security forces.

"If any Tibetan is involved in a dispute, the Tibetans will be the losers," he said. "If we speak and argue with the Chinese, they call this the 'politics of separation.'"

"We cannot engage the services of lawyers, and in fact the Chinese lawyers are scared to take Tibetan cases."

A third Tibetan resident agreed. "Now Lhasa and the surrounding areas in Tibet really look like a vast prison," he said. "We cannot do anything."

He said that authorities were monitoring all phone traffic coming into Lhasa from overseas, although it was unclear if this was a temporary measure.

"If relatives living in foreign countries call their family members in the Lhasa area, this sets off a red warning light at police monitoring stations in Lhasa, and the conversation is recorded," the man said.

Han also checked


Some Han residents of Lhasa said they, too, were being subjected to tight security, however.

"They have set up those security scanners, and you have to walk through the scanner," said a Lhasa-based migrant worker surnamed Yao.

"They are also checking identity papers and so on, especially if you go to the Jokhang Temple and the Barkhor."

"Basically, we have stayed in a restaurant for the past two days. We haven't been out."

While this month sees the celebration of the annual Shoton yogurt festival, some residents said the city's tight security no longer seems linked to any specific event.

"It's not just the past couple of days," said a second Tibetan woman. "It's been like this the whole time."

"It's very strict, but it is usually like this over here now; we have got used to it," she said.

"They won't let people gather on the streets, let alone allow any Tibetan-Han [conflict] to take place."

"It's checks, checks, checks ... Everyone has to undergo checks. They search you near the Barkhor Market with machines."

Other areas targeted

Recent reports indicate that the stringent security measures aren't limited to Lhasa.

Chinese authorities have detained more than 1,000 residents of a restive Tibetan county since March, targeting mainly educated youth involved in promoting the revival of Tibetan language and culture, local sources said this week.

The crackdown followed the deployment of large numbers of security forces to Driru county in the Nagchu prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in March following demonstrations in the area, residents said.

In a growing wave of opposition to Beijing's rule in Tibetan areas, 49 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009, with nearly all of the fiery protests taking place in Tibetan-populated provinces in western China.

The first self-immolation protest in Lhasa was reported in May, when two young Tibetan men set themselves on fire in a central square of the heavily guarded city.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has launched a nationwide "stability" drive in recent months, targeting activists, dissidents, and potential political flashpoints like Tibet and the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang ahead of a key leadership transition at the 18th Party Congress later this year.

Reported by Yangdon Demo for RFA's Tibetan service and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated by Karma Dorjee and Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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