New Curbs in Tibet

Tibetans face increased restrictions on prayer and travel ahead of a sensitive Chinese anniversary.

lhasa-305.jpg Chinese paramilitary police patrol in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, June 20, 2008.

DHARAMSALA—As authorities prepare for sensitive anniversary celebrations across China, a growing security presence in the country’s west is limiting the religious practices and travel of Tibetans, residents say.

The increased security, residents say, is targeting several areas within China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), as well as other parts of the country inhabited by Tibetans.

On Oct. 1, China will mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Many inhabitants of the TAR oppose Chinese rule in the region.

A resident of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, who asked to remain anonymous said security personnel had been posted around sites of cultural and religious significance to Tibetans.

“There is a huge presence of security forces in Lhasa around the Potala Palace and in the Jokhang [temple]. Fearing Tibetan protests, the Chinese authorities have closed all other shrines in Jokhang except the main shrine,” the Tibetan said.

“In the past you would not see any armed personnel inside the Jokhang shrine—only monks. However, on Sept. 24, six armed security personnel were stationed inside to keep watch on Tibetans who come to view and pray at the main shrine," the man said.

‘A show of force’

Another Tibetan resident of Lhasa said both armed police and soldiers have been ordered to march around the Jokhang temple in groups of 10 “as a show of force.”

He added that Tibetans from other parts of the TAR were being refused entry to the Tibetan capital.

"The Tibetans from Kham and Amdo in particular are checked for their IDs, while those who do not have proper permits have been ordered to return to their hometowns,” the man said.

He added that even those Tibetans from villages on the outskirts of Lhasa are “thoroughly checked” for identification when they come to the city.

“Special checkpoints were raised at different entry points and have stopped all Tibetans from going into Lhasa," he said.

Security personnel also carried out combat training to disable explosives and prevent “surprise terror attacks” in the city on the morning of Sept. 24, according to the official Beijing Zhongguo Xinwen She news agency, which called the drills “a complete success.”

Other areas targeted

Others said the increased security presence was not limited to policing Lhasa’s cultural sites and city entry points.

A resident of Kardze [in Chinese, Ganzi] county in Sichuan’s Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, said similar “anti-terror” drills were being held there.

"A convoy of 30 vehicles carrying armed security personnel arrived at the main town center where the Tibetans protested last year,” the woman said.

“Armed security personnel were stationed in groups in different parts of Kardze city. The security force was undergoing training in combating Tibetan uprisings," she said.

In March of last year, riots protesting Chinese rule in Tibet spread throughout the TAR, but were met with a swift and violent response from Chinese authorities.

Residents of Kardze, part of what Tibetans know as Kham, have earned a reputation for speaking out against Chinese rule, experts say.

Visas no longer issued

In addition to the increased security presence around the TAR, authorities have stopped granting travel permits for Tibet, according to tourism industry workers in neighboring Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu.

"Chinese Embassy officials stopped issuing permits to Tibet on Sept. 21, and they will end the restriction only after Oct. 8," one of the workers in Kathmandu said.

The other Kathmandu resident, who works as a travel agent in the city, said Tibetan travelers from outside Tibet are being told to leave the region before National Day celebrations commence.

"Those Tibetans who are in Tibet to visit their relatives were ordered to leave Tibet before Oct. 1," the travel agent said.

Chinese authorities are implementing a nationwide security clampdown ahead of the Oct. 1 National Day celebrations, closing key Web sites and discussion boards, and detaining people who try to lodge complaints in Beijing about local governments.

The anniversary comes as Beijing struggles to quell ethnic tensions in China's northwest and to silence outspoken dissidents, petitioners, and civil rights lawyers, who have been warned against using the occasion to protest against the government.

Original reporting by Norbu Damdul and Thupten Sangyal for RFA’s Tibetan service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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