Chinese authorities have begun a security sweep of mobile phones in the Tibetan capital Lhasa’s major monasteries, where they are searching for images and writings deemed politically sensitive in a bid to restrict the flow of information to the outside world, Tibetan sources say.
The move comes amid continuing reports of Beijing’s destruction of satellite equipment in eastern Tibetan regions aimed at preventing Tibetans from tuning in to foreign radio and TV broadcasts, according to area residents and other sources.
On March 7, a special team described as “experts” in the use of mobile phones arrived in Lhasa from Beijing to begin monitoring communications from the area, a Swiss-based Tibetan told RFA’s Tibetan Service, citing contacts in Tibet.
Their arrival came three days before the 54th anniversary of the failed March 10, 1959 rebellion by Tibetans against Chinese rule, a date celebrated by Tibetans in exile around the world as National Uprising Day.
“On March 8, the special task team arrived in Drepung monastery and checked the mobile phones of the monks,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The team is also assigned to inspect and monitor the mobile phones in Sera, Ramoche, Ganden, and other monasteries in the Lhasa area,” he said.
“Authorities are saying that if anyone is found communicating abroad, those individuals will be detained,” he added.
Chinese authorities have stepped up curbs on information flow in Tibetan-populated areas amid unending Tibetan self-immolation protests against Beijing's rule in these areas. Beijing is believed to have been embarrassed by the dissemination abroad of images of the fiery protests.
Some 107 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze so far challenging Chinese rule and calling for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Many Tibetans chose to forgo traditional Lunar New Year celebrations last month, gathering instead at local monasteries to “remember and pray for the self-immolators,” an RFA source said.
Separately, the India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) confirmed the crackdown on mobile phone use in Lhasa, saying that following the inspections in the larger monasteries, “other smaller monastic institutions will be covered by this campaign in the coming months.”
“The special ‘work team’ [from] Beijjing will stay for about four to five days at each monastery,” TCHRD said.
“Local authorities have vowed to undertake severe measures including detention and imprisonment against attempts to share information about Tibet,” the rights group added.
Satellite dishes destroyed
Last month, exile sources reported that a young Tibetan traditional artist was sentenced to two years in a reeducation-through-labor facility for having photos on his mobile phone of two compatriots who had self-immolated.
Ngawang Tobden, 20, was detained in Lhasa in October last year, but relatives learned of his sentence on charges of “subversion” only four months later, the sources said.
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities in a Tibetan-populated region of Qinghai province launched a crackdown in January on satellite equipment used by Tibetans to tune in to foreign radio and TV programs, area resident and other sources said.
Hundreds of satellite dishes and receivers were seized from homes in Malho (in Chinese, Huangnan) prefecture’s Rebgong (Tongren) county, and were later burned or otherwise destroyed, sources said.
Those found with the satellite equipment, which Tibetans have used to listen to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America broadcasts, were given stiff fines, residents said.
Reported by Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.