Tibetans Stage Rare Public Protest in Lhasa

2006-11-08
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July, 2006: A view taken of the World Heritage listed Potala Palace. Photo: AFP/Mark Ralston

KATHMANDU—Hundreds of Tibetan graduates have staged a rare public protest in the Tibetan regional capital, Lhasa, over alleged discrimination by Chinese authorities in hiring for civil service jobs.

No violence was reported and no one was arrested in the weeklong protest in late October, numerous sources in the region told RFA’s Tibetan service.

A civil service examination on Sept. 30 conducted by the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) government in Lhasa appears to have sparked the protest, sources said on condition of anonymity.

Some 1,000 Tibetan and Chinese candidates sat for the exam, aimed at filling 100 open positions, one source said. Ultimately, jobs were offered to 98 Chinese and two Tibetan applicants, the source said.

When they went for their training, they were assured that they would get jobs after completing their studies in China.

“All the exams were conducted in Chinese and most of the questions were about ancient history. The Tibetans students had studied modern history [in preparation]. This caused great resentment among the Tibetan community,” the source said.

Authorities later increased the number of openings to 140 and announced plans to offer positions to 71 more Tibetans, the source said, although no offers have yet been announced.

The protesters, according to another source, were graduates from various universities in China. Many had been backed in their studies by families and villages in poor rural areas.

Tibetan students in China pay fees ranging from, on average, 3,000 to 6,000 yuan per semester, depending on the institution and course of study.

“When they went for their training, they were assured that they would get jobs after completing their studies in China. So many Tibetan villages even sold their cattle and paid for their children’s training in hope that they would get jobs after their return,” this source said.

“No arrests were made, but TAR authorities talked with the Tibetan protesters and tried to defuse the situation,” said another source.

Another source, who also asked not to be named, said the graduates protested in different groups of about 200 people “for several days in front of the TAR government offices and the Department of Education in Lhasa during the last week of October.”

“This campaign was led by those young Tibetans who had completed their special vocational training from different vocational institutions or universities in China. Their main resentment was unfair distribution of jobs,” the source said.

“Some authorities came out and talked very politely and called us inside the building,” she said. “When we were inside, the authorities threatened that if there were any government employees in the protest, they would lose their jobs, the students wouldn’t be given jobs, and community members would be arrested. There were protests on other days too.”

No official comment

Officials at the TAR Department of Education, contacted by telephone, declined to comment on the reported demonstrations.

On Nov. 6, possibly in response to the protests, the official Lhasa Evening News reported that the regional government was imposing a new employment policy.

Under the new policy, it said, anyone hired by Lhasa city must also serve in rural areas, the Lhasa government may not make hiring decisions independently, and all government offices must hire new graduates.

Anyone who has completed teachers’ training was urged to report directly to the Department of Education, it said, adding that government departments cannot refuse to offer jobs to candidates without good reason, and that all departments must follow TAR employment policies.

Tibetans claim discrimination in TAR

According to the 2005 U.S. State Department annual report on human rights worldwide, the TAR “is one of China’s poorest regions, and Tibetans are one of the poorest groups; malnutrition among Tibetan children [remains] widespread… In August [2005], state media reported that Tibetans and other minority ethnic groups made up 70 percent of all government employees in the TAR. However, Han Chinese continued to hold key positions, including party secretary of the TAR.”

“Some Tibetans reported that they experienced discrimination in employment and claimed Han Chinese were hired preferentially for many jobs and received greater pay for the same work. In recent years some Tibetans reported that it was more difficult for Tibetans than Han to get permits and loans to open businesses."

“The widespread use of the Chinese language in urban areas and many businesses limited employment opportunities for Tibetans who did not speak Chinese,” the report said.

A report by the Free Tibet Campaign said Tibetan officials had stressed “the importance of skills training specifically for Tibetans, in order to address the inequalities in pay and opportunities in both rural and urban areas.”

“Many Tibetans can obtain only low-paid manual work because of lack of skills...Relevant areas for skill training for Tibetans recommended by the same senior official could include forestry, vegetable and flower growing, bee-keeping, maintenance and repair of farming machines, maintenance of solar power generation equipment, tractor or truck driving.”

Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Original reporting in Tibetan

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