Chinese authorities in Tibet on Monday warned government employees of disciplinary action if they fail to prevent further Tibetan protests following a series of self-immolations and bloody demonstrations in Tibetan-populated areas in Chinese provinces.
Tensions have risen in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and in Tibetan-populated areas of Sichuan and Gansu provinces following a recent wave of protests against Chinese rule and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.
The official Tibet Daily reported Monday that the Disciplinary Committee of the Communist Party of the TAR has ordered government departments at every level to “put all their efforts into maintaining a stable, unified social situation in Tibet.”
At the same time, the directive warned, all government employees “must fully recognize the extreme importance and urgency of the task of maintaining stability … Disciplinary measures will be taken against those who neglect their duties [in a way that] results in serious consequences.”
“Whoever violates these rules will immediately be relieved of his duties, [and] the government will punish those whose violations constitute a crime,” the notice warned.
Three Tibetans set themselves on fire in Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county in China’s Sichuan province on Feb. 3.
Serthar was also among three counties in Sichuan province where Tibetans held protests against Chinese rule two weeks ago during which rights and exile groups believe at least six were killed and 60 injured, some critically. The other counties were Draggo (in Chinese, Luhuo) and Dzamthang (in Chinese, Rangtang).
Official Chinese media reported only two Tibetans were killed after "mobs" armed with, guns, knives and stones attacked local police.
Communications are now cut off between Serthar and the outside world, as well as in the neighboring county of Draggo, sources said.
“It is extremely difficult to contact Serthar now,” said Tsultrim Woeser, a native of Serthar and former member of Tibet’s exile parliament now living in India.
“I tried from China, Nepal, and other places, but the lines of communication are closed,” he said.
Another Serthar native, Chogyal, agreed, also speaking from India.
“It is extremely difficult to get any further details due to a total clampdown in the area,” he said.
“During the protests against Chinese rule in Tibetan areas on Jan. 23 and Jan. 24, it was difficult to obtain information about the number of Tibetans who lost their lives.”
“But we are hearing reports that about 45 Tibetans died during those protests,” Chogyal said.
Jampel Monlam, deputy director of the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, noted that the sealing-off is aimed at preventing news of Tibetan self-immolations from spreading.
“In Serthar county, where the most recent self-immolations took place, there are no phone or Internet connections at all with the outside world. The authorities fear that the self-immolations will become known in Lhasa or in other parts of Tibet,” he said.
He said that situation is also “very tense” in Lhasa.
“According to information we have obtained, downtown Lhasa has been under control by armed security personnel since yesterday [Feb. 5].”
“In the suburban areas, the three largest monasteries—Sera, Drepung, and Ganden, are all encircled by armed police, who are controlling the activities of the monks,” he added.
“On Monday morning, the Communist authorities in Tibet issued a notice with an urgent call to maintain stability. Now, many areas in Tibet have been completely cut off from the outside.”
“You can’t even make a phone call,” he said.
A Lhasa resident confirmed the rising tensions.
“Armored vehicles are patrolling the Lhasa streets now,” the man said, identifying himself only by the surname Sun.
“Security personnel are also patrolling around the Tibetan monasteries in the suburbs,” he said.
Reached for comment, an official at Lhasa City’s Religious Affairs Bureau declined to discuss the government directive.
“I cannot answer your question. You must contact our management,” she said.
Phone calls to the bureau chief’s office rang unanswered on Monday.
“This directive is a very dangerous sign,” said Kelsang Gyaltsen, an MP with the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala. “It means the repression of the Tibetan people will be intensified.”
“It also testifies to the fact that there is no unified consensus among Communist officials on how to handle the recent turmoil,” he said.
“But punishment cannot solve the problems in Tibet, and the continuation of such a policy is very dangerous,” he added.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service, and by Tenzin Wangyal and Kunzang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Ping Chen and Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Ping Chen.