Tibetan Nomads Denied Licenses For Much-Needed Motorbikes

Authorities' refusal to issue the licenses inconveniences rural Tibetans who must travel long distances through remote areas.

A map showing the location of Serthar county in China's Sichuan province.

Chinese authorities in Sichuan’s Serthar county are refusing to issue drivers’ licenses to Tibetan nomads who rely more and more on motorbikes for traveling long distances in remote areas, Tibetan sources say.

The licenses can ordinarily be obtained on presentation of an application and payment of a 600 yuan (US$100) fee, but are now being denied, a local source recently told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“Chinese officials repeatedly reject the applications, using the flimsiest excuses,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Sometimes, they say their computers are down. At other times, they say the nomads have not met the requirements for their licenses to be issued,” he said.

In a video clip circulating on social media on July 24 and obtained by RFA, a group of Tibetans can be seen pleading unsuccessfully at a county police station for their licenses, waving completed paperwork and proofs of purchase.

A woman working behind a counter shouts back at them, telling them that nothing can be done.

“Often, the nomads are simply kicked out, and officials then leave the building to avoid having to discuss things further,” RFA’s source said.

Many have traveled long distances and arrive early in the day to wait in long lines, but are still turned away, he said.

No official explanations for the refusals have been made, and calls seeking comment from Serthar police rang unanswered on Thursday.

With many remote areas of Serthar cut off from major roads, motorbikes have become increasingly popular with Tibetan nomads who use them as a convenient means of transportation, RFA’s source said.

“What used to take them two days on horseback to reach, can now be reached by motorbike in a few hours.”

“But the nomads must have drivers’ licenses for their motorbikes, or else they get in trouble with the police,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, U.S.-based Tibetan expert on Chinese law Dolma Kyab called authorities' refusal to grant drivers' licenses to Tibetan nomads only one of many cases of discrimination happening in Tibetan areas ruled by China.

"[Authorities] look down on Tibetan people who don't understand their legal rights, and these nomad Tibetans are not that well educated," he said.

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