Police in western China’s Sichuan province have launched a new drive to find and destroy photos of the Dalai Lama, raiding Tibetan homes at random in a search for images of the exiled spiritual leader, who is widely reviled by Chinese authorities as a dangerous separatist.
The raids, which were held to enforce restrictions already in place, were recently conducted in several areas of Dzamthang county in Sichuan’s Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, one local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week.
“No photos were discovered during the raids, however, so no arrests were made at that time,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “China has warned that anyone not complying with government orders against possession of the photos will face severe consequences,” he added.
Authorities in Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) prefecture had earlier also launched a push against possession of photos of the Dalai Lama, traveling to remote areas that had previously escaped police attention, Tibetan sources told RFA in July.
The campaign, which began at the end of April, targeted Serthar county in Kardze but was also being enforced in other areas of the eastern Tibetan region historically known as Kham, one source, a Tibetan living in Switzerland, said.
The Dalai Lama, 84, fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese rule, and displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo or public celebrations of his birthday have been harshly punished in the past.
Chinese officials have meanwhile toured Tibetan villages and towns in neighboring Qinghai province to promote a campaign against organized crime and other activities considered threatening to Beijing’s control over Tibetan areas of China, RFA’s source said.
“During their tour, the Chinese officials explain the purposes of the campaign, speaking in both Tibetan and Chinese,” the source said, adding that the online activities of local Tibetans are monitored especially closely by internet censors and police.
Authorities in Tibetan areas of China frequently monitor discussions on social media and search mobile phones for what they consider politically sensitive content, and foreign news broadcasts are heavily restricted.
Also speaking to RFA, a Tibetan living in exile confirmed the crackdown in Qinghai against criminal gangs and other “evil forces,” saying the campaign has now widened to include a broader suppression of political activity by Tibetans.
“Many Tibetans living in Qinghai and in some parts of Gansu province are facing severe restrictions amid the crackdown,” RFA’s source said, citing contacts in the region.
“In this atmosphere of ‘Big Brother watching,’ Chinese spies are now placed everywhere in Tibetan society, leaving Tibetans in a state of constant fear,” he said.
“Chinese authorities are doing everything they can to block outside political news and information from reaching Tibetans, and also to prevent any local news from leaking out.”
Though China’s campaign to crack down on ‘evil forces’ was aimed at first at criminal gangs, gambling, rape, and other social ills, “the enforcers have departed from their initial goals,” the source said.
“Now, the campaign has become a tool to crack down on any expression of Tibetan culture and identity and political dissent.”
The campaign demands absolute loyalty to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and local officials are required to report to higher authorities on the success of the campaign’s implementation in Tibetan areas, the source said.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.