China Questions Tibetan Pilgrims in Lhasa as Sensitive Anniversaries Approach

2019-03-04
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Tourists walk in the Barkor in the center of Tibet's regional capital Lhasa in a file photo.
Tourists walk in the Barkor in the center of Tibet's regional capital Lhasa in a file photo.
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Chinese authorities in the Tibetan regional capital Lhasa are closely questioning Tibetan pilgrims visiting the city and watching the movements of Tibetan businessmen during the run-up to politically sensitive anniversaries in March, Tibetan sources say.

“With the approach of March 10 and 14, China has intensified its surveillance of Tibetan pilgrims coming to Lhasa from the areas of Kham and Amdo,” a Lhasa resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service, using traditional names for the eastern and northeastern regions of historical Tibet, now part of China’s Sichuan and Qinghai provinces.

“These pilgrims are being thoroughly interrogated about the reasons for their visits during this month,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Questions include enquiries into the proposed length of their stay in Lhasa, a major pilgrimage site for devout Buddhists, and about the names and addresses of their hosts in the city, the source said.

“They are also being asked to keep their mobile phones switched on at all times, and are being reminded to strictly abide by the law and not to become involved in any activities considered to be harmful to [China’s] national security,” he said.

Many Tibetans doing business in Lhasa but coming from other areas are now temporarily returning home, RFA’s source said, adding “They fear being wrongly accused by China of taking part in any protests that may take place to mark the anniversaries.”

“All the areas around the Barkor city center and the Potala Palace [residence of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama] are now heavily guarded by both uniformed and plainclothes Chinese security personnel,” he said.

Sensitive anniversaries

China regularly tightens security in Lhasa and restricts travel to the city by Tibetans living in western Chinese provinces during important political gatherings in Beijing and especially in March, a month of politically sensitive anniversaries.

On March 10, 1959, Tibetans in Lhasa rose up in protest of Beijing’s tightening political and military control of the formerly self-governing Tibetan region, sparking a rebellion in which thousands were killed.

And on March 14, 2008, a riot in Lhasa followed the suppression by Chinese police of four days of peaceful Tibetan protests and led to the destruction of Han Chinese shops in the city and deadly attacks on Han Chinese residents.

The riot then sparked a wave of mostly peaceful protests against Chinese rule that spread across Tibet and into Tibetan-populated regions of western Chinese provinces.

Hundreds of Tibetans were detained, beaten, or shot as Chinese security forces quelled the protests, sources said in earlier reports.

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

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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