Chinese authorities in Tibet have cracked down on online discussions of the rising number of infections from China’s coronavirus, detaining seven people in Tibet’s Chamdo prefecture on charges of spreading rumors and misinformation, according to state media and other sources.
One of those detained, a resident of Chamdo’s Gonjo (Gongjue in Chinese) county identified by the name Chen, had posted a comment online on Jan. 29 saying that people from mainland China were arriving in secret in the county, “causing panic among Chamdo netizens,” the People’s Daily said on Feb. 5.
Public security officers immediately “clarified the situation” and took Chen into custody, sentencing him to a period of 10 days’ detention and a fine of 500 yuan (U.S. $72 approx.) the People’s Daily said, without saying whether Chen was an ethnic Tibetan or a Han Chinese.
Meanwhile, a man identified by the name Tse was detained in Chamdo’s Tengchen (Dingqing) county for posting a message on the popular WeChat social media platform asking readers to recite a particular prayer 10 times and send the request on to 10 other people to guard against infection.
“The Tengchen County Public Security Bureau punished the man with a term of administrative detention of seven days, according to the law,” the People’s Daily said.
“The posting of information and remarks online must comply with relevant laws and regulations,” the county’s Public Security Bureau warned in a notice quoted by the state-controlled paper, urging netizens not to “create rumors, believe rumors, or spread rumors,” and to create a “clean and harmonious cyberspace.”
Speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service, a Chamdo resident confirmed the paper’s report, saying, “Seven people have been detained for allegedly spreading disinformation.”
Numbers continue to rise
Meanwhile, the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Tibetan-populated areas of China rose over the weekend, state media said, with a total of 23 cases now reported in Sichuan’s Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and six in Gansu’s Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
One infection has also been confirmed in Sichuan’s Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, three in the Tsojang Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of neighboring Qinghai province, and 15 in Qinghai’s provincial capital Xining.
On Feb. 5, a tea-shop owner in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa was discovered to have opened his shop in defiance of a Jan. 28 government order closing all discos, cyber cafes, tea shops, and movie theaters, a source in Lhasa told RFA, adding that the owner was “fined according to law for violating the government ban.”
Tibetan monks are meanwhile working to curb the spread of the virus, collecting donations at the Labrang monastery in Gansu’s Sangchu (Xiahe) county and distributing thousands of face masks in Kardze’s Tawu (Daofu) county, already hard-hit by the infection’s spread.
“This is the least we can do in service to the people living in Tawu,” one monk from the Shedrup Tenphel Choeling monastery said, quoted by the Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser on her Facebook page.
“We can only hope that we can be of some help in preventing [the further spread of] this epidemic,” the monk said.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul and Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.