Chinese authorities in a Tibetan-populated prefecture have launched a crackdown on satellite equipment used by Tibetans to tune in to foreign radio and TV programs, according to residents and other sources.
The move is part of a government clampdown on communications to stifle information on self-immolations protesting Chinese rule.
Hundreds of satellite dishes and receivers have been seized from homes in Malho (in Chinese, Huangnan) prefecture in Qinghai province and destroyed or burned as part of a "cleansing" operation launched on the orders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party following a surge in Tibetan self-immolation protests.
The campaign was centered on Rebgong (in Chinese, Tongren) county where a record number of Tibetans burned themselves to demand an end to Chinese rule and call for the return of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Those found with the satellite equipment, which Tibetans have also used to listen to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America programs, are given stiff fines, residents said.
Chinese authorities are giving rewards to those who can pinpoint homes using the equipment.
"If the satellite equipment is not surrendered, each family is fined 5,000 yuan (U.S. $800). If anyone reports others holding back satellite and radio equipment to listen to foreign programs, they will be awarded 10,000 yuan,” a Tibetan in Rebgong told RFA's Tibetan Service.
One RFA listener, who sent photos of the burning of the satellite equipment, said, "It is very clear they are doing this to [block] RFA, VOA, and other foreign programs."
RFA has reported extensively on the 95 Tibetan self-immolations that had occurred mostly last year and highlighted crackdowns by authorities on Tibetan monasteries.
"Now we are blind [to developments in the region] and we are very sad,” the listener said, citing the clampdown on Internet and telephone communications by the authorities following the self-immolations.
A six-member committee at the prefecture level comprising Party and Government officials has been set up to marshal operations to "seize and destroy all the illegal equipment in Malho prefecture.”
Another Tibetan resident said the authorities are encouraging Tibetans to buy smaller satellite dishes and new receivers to replace the usually large dishes that had been confiscated.
Some suspect the new equipment, which can be used to receive only state controlled programs, are doubling up as surveillance devices.
"The smaller dishes and modems provided for the local programs are suspected to be equipped with hidden cameras and recording devices,” the resident from Rebgong said.
The latest order to seize and destroy satellite equipment used to receive foreign broadcasting programs stemmed from a speech by Qinghai's Communist Party Secretary Qang Wei at the end of November 2012, according to reports from Tibet.
“The Party and the Government of Qinghai province should seize all the ground equipment used to receive satellite and radio program and clean them out in Malho," one report said, citing excerpts of his speech.
"The cleansing efforts should be widely publicized in Malho prefecture. All those illegal equipments should be seized and replaced by those equipments that bring rich programs of the masses. The illegal and damaging, instigative programs from outside radio stations and TV should be stopped," Qang Wei said.
He had also ordered families owning or selling the illegal equipment to be "thoroughly investigated," especially those who advocated independence for Tibet.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.