U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on China on Friday to address the grievances of Tibetans amid reports of new security clampdowns, travel restrictions, and disruption of communication links in Tibetan areas as Beijing prepares for a major leadership transition next week.
At the same time, the U.N. human rights chief urged an end to the Tibetan self-immolation protests challenging Chinese rule in which at least 62 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze since February 2009.
“I recognize Tibetans’ intense sense of frustration and despair which has led them to resort to such extreme means, but there are other ways to make those feelings clear,” she said.
In her statement, believed to be among the most forceful by a top U.N. official in directly addressing the situation in Tibet, Pillay pointed to “reports of detentions and disappearances, of excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators, and curbs on the cultural rights of Tibetans.”
“I call on [China’s] government to respect the rights to peaceful assembly and expression, and to release all individuals detained for merely exercising these universal rights,” she said.
Cases cited by Pillay include the beating and imprisonment of a 17-year-old Tibetan girl who distributed flyers calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, along with other instances of Tibetans jailed for writing essays, making films, or sending information about events in Tibet to contacts outside the region.
Media access to Tibetan areas should be lifted, Pillay said, and “independent and impartial” monitors allowed to visit and report on the conditions they observe.
In addition, Pillay called on China to suspend the forced resettlement of Tibetan nomads and to review policies encouraging large-scale Han Chinese migration into ethnic Tibetan areas.
“Social stability in Tibet will never be achieved through heavy security measures and suppression of human rights,” Pillay said.
“Deep underlying issues need to be addressed."
Meanwhile, Tibetan sources report that Chinese authorities have tightened restrictions on information flows and the movements of Tibetans during the lead-up to the Nov. 8 ruling Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing, at which a new group of national leaders will be chosen for the next ten years.
“Tibet has been virtually cut off from the rest of the world,” a Tibetan living in Sichuan province’s Kardze prefecture told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It began a few days ago,” he said.
“Usually, local Tibetans communicate among themselves using [the texting service] WeChat, but even this is now entirely blocked, and Tibetans can no longer use it to send messages within China.”
“The purpose of the blackout is to prevent the spread of news concerning possible protests in Tibet during the 18th Party Congress,” a second Tibetan source in Kardze said, also on condition he not be named.
“New military posts have been set up in areas where they weren’t present before,” the source said, referring probably to units of China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police.
“Whether this new security presence is permanent isn’t clear, but all major towns and cities in Tibetan-inhabited areas have seen a buildup.”
Separately, a Tibetan living in the Tibet Autonomous Region reported tightened controls on the movements of Tibetans traveling to large cities like Chamdo and the regional capital Lhasa, noting that travelers are now frequently stopped at police checkpoints and required to present government identification papers.
“These restrictions are due to the opening of the 18th Party Congress,” he said, adding that “monks and nuns are especially bearing the brunt of this heavy security clampdown.”
Reported by Norbu Damdul and Soepa Gyatso for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.