Chinese security forces in large numbers have moved into Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa in an apparent bid to discourage local protests against rule by Beijing, according to sources in Tibet.
The move follows a recent wave of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule in which at least five Tibetans in a Tibetan-populated county of Sichuan province have died.
“Thousands of troops appeared in Lhasa city on the evening of Oct. 18,” a caller from Lhasa told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“By the next day, Lhasa was filled with security forces,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether the security forces referred to were troops belonging to China’s People’s Liberation Army or members of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, or whether members of both forces are now present in the city.
“I heard that these restrictions will continue until Oct. 22,” another Tibetan calling from Lhasa said, also asking not to be named.
“Some think the self-immolation protests in Amdo Ngaba could be the reason for this increase in security, while some say that the new movement [in solidarity with the Ngaba protests] among exile Tibetans is the reason.”
The troops are now stationed at major intersections, on main streets, around the Jokhang temple, and at the Potala Palace—the former residence of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, the caller said.
“Troops were stationed at the outskirts of Lhasa, too,” the caller said. “They are everywhere in the city.”
“One group of security forces, dressed in light khaki, is stationed around the Jokhang and on main streets around the Potala Palace. Another group goes around in groups of two to four black vans to every corner of Lhasa.”
“Groups of 10 soldiers, standing in back-to-back formation, are posted at every intersection with their fingers on their triggers, ready to shoot,” the caller said.
“The restrictions in Lhasa are intense and frightening,” he said.
Chinese security forces in Lhasa are now thoroughly searching Tibetans coming from Tibet’s eastern Kham and Amdo regions, along with monks and nuns and anyone wearing eastern regional dress or hairstyles, the caller said.
“They are questioned about their current place of residence, native place, and reasons for being in Lhasa, and so on.”
The soldiers also search cell phones, looking for photographs of the Dalai Lama or another senior religious figure, the Karmapa. They also search for Tibetan songs, or anything else considered politically sensitive, the caller said.
“For the slightest reason, they detain the Tibetans they search and take them to the detention center at Tagtse, outside Lhasa. Those who are further suspected are moved to the main detention center in Lhasa,” he said.
Tibetans have stepped up their protests against Chinese rule in recent weeks.
In the most recent self-immolation, a nun set herself ablaze and died in Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture on Monday in the first female self-immolation case in recent memory among Tibetans resisting Chinese rule.
Tenzin Wamgmo, about 20 years old, called for freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader living in exile in India, before succumbing to her burns.
Eight Tibetan monks, mostly in Ngaba, have self-immolated this year, and four have died, saying they wanted to sacrifice their lives to protest rule by Beijing and alleged human rights abuses by Chinese security forces.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.