An undated photograph of Tibetans with their hands tied at their backs and kneeling on the ground carrying placards announcig their names and “crimes” such as “separatist.”
DHARAMSHALA, June 20: One of China’s hallmark campaigns in Tibet, aimed at “benefitting the masses,” is in fact leading “an intrusive surveillance of people, carrying out widespread political re-education, and establishing partisan security units,” a rights group has found out.
US based Human Rights Watch on Wednesday said Chinese government officials under the campaign, “Solidify the Foundations, Benefit the Masses” (qianji huimin), were discriminating Tibetans perceived as potentially disloyal, and restrict their freedom of religion and opinion.
As part of the three-year campaign, which was launched on October 10, 2011, over 5,000 teams comprising of more than 20,000 officials and communist party cadres have been stationed in Tibetan villages in central Tibet to “improve rural living standards.”
However, HRW noted that the teams were “categorising Tibetans according to their religious and political thinking, and establishing institutions to monitor their behavior and opinions.”
“It’s hard to see the ‘benefit’ to Tibetans of thousands of political education sessions, partisan quasi-police force operations, and scrutiny of their political views,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW. “In a region where people are already subjected to extraordinary monitoring, this village-level drive, alongside similar efforts directed at towns and monasteries, effectively means that Tibetans cannot avoid state surveillance.”
The rights group contends that while facilities have been upgraded by the cadre teams in some villages, “benefiting the masses” is only the last of the five objectives of the drive.
According to HRW, the instructions given to the teams state that their first priority is to expand the role and size of the party in Tibetan villages, turning them into communist party “fortresses.”
The second priority is to “maintain stability” by ‘carrying out activities against the Dalai clique,’ which includes increasing “social stability maintenance;” “deepening the struggle” against followers of the Dalai Lama; and “strengthening the management and education of monks and nuns.”
Citing interviews, HRW said that these directives have led to “a sharp increase in information gathering by cadre teams about support for the Dalai Lama among rural families, and a setting up of security operations and surveillance mechanisms aimed at eradicating support for the Dalai Lama.”
The group further said that resident village work cadre teams have detained hundreds of Tibetans and subjected them to re-education.
The campaign costs 1.48 billion yuan (approximately US$227 million) a year, more than 25% of the regional government’s budget, with an additional 10 billion yuan (approximately US$1.5 billion) allocated for infrastructure construction in the villages, HRW added.
“If the government and the party are serious about improving everyday life of Tibetans, they must begin with addressing ongoing human rights violations, including restrictions on religious freedom, freedom of expression, and access to information,” said Richardson.
The campaign, “Benefit the Masses,” aimed at achieving “the three non-occurrences,” meaning no protests or expression of dissent, is one of three major new systems of social organisation and control introduced in the so called Tibetan Autonomous Region since 2011.
The other two include an urban administrative network of surveillance and monitoring known as the grid system, which was introduced in the TAR in 2012, and a new system of information gathering known as the “Six Ones” introduced to monitor monks and nuns in Tibetan monasteries in November 2011.
The three systems are officially described as measures to promote “stability maintenance,” HRW said.
Since 2009, as many as 119 Tibetans living under China's rule have set themselves on fire demanding freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama from exile.