News and Views on Tibet

Crackdown on mobile phones in Lhasa, ‘Experts’ from Beijing carry out sweep

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DHARAMSHALA, March 12: Chinese authorities are carrying out a major crackdown on mobile phones in the Tibetan capital Lhasa as part of their ongoing security drive to stem the flow of information from Tibet.

A special team dispatched from Beijing began scanning all mobile phones used by monks at the Drepung Monastery on March 10, the 54th Tibetan National Uprising Day.

Daharmshala based rights group Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in a release on Monday said the special team of ‘experts on cellphone technology’ arrived in Lhasa on March 7.

“The next day on 8 March, the special cellphone inspection ‘work team’ visited Drepung Monastery where they have now begun security screenings of cellphone owned by the monks,” the group said.

“Cellphone crackdowns will be carried out in Sera and Ganden monasteries, followed by Ramoche and Tsuglakhang (Jokhang) temples. Other smaller monastic institutions will be covered by this campaign in the coming months, according to decisions taken by the local government.”

TCHRD cited sources as saying that the latest move is “targeted at Tibetans who share information about Tibet with those in foreign countries.”

“Local authorities have vowed to undertake severe measures including detention and imprisonment against attempts to share information about Tibet,” the group said.

“Moreover, Chinese authorities make liberal use of its ‘State Secrets Law’ to prosecute and imprison legitimate Tibetan dissent and resistance.”

In June last year, Lho Younten Gyatso, 37, a senior Tibetan monk of the Khashi Geyphel Samtenling Monastery, situated near Ngaba town in eastern Tibet, was sentenced to seven years by a Chinese court for his alleged crimes of sharing sensitive information on nun Tenzin Wangmo, who self-immolated on October 17, 2011.

Gyatso was also charged with “sharing information since 2008 about political events in Tibet by attempting to make telephone calls to human rights mechanisms of the UN.”

“According to Chinese government, one is a criminal if one tries to share information about human rights abuses in one’s country or community. When in reality, without these brave and conscientious individuals who put their life on fire to retrieve information, the world outside Tibet would never know,” TCHRD said.

Last month, China sentenced a Tibetan youth Ngawang Topden to two years in prison for storing images of Tibet self-immolations and the banned Tibetan national flag in his mobile phone. In December last, four Tibetans were arrested in Rebkong region of eastern Tibet on similar charges of storing “reactionary” materials after they were found keeping photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in their phones.

Global rights group Human Rights Watch last year reported on increased restrictions on news, media, and communications in Tibet aimed at ensuring what Party Secretary Chen Quanguo of the so called Tibetan Autonomous Region said “absolute security of Tibet’s ideological and cultural realm.”

The measures involved significantly increased controls on internet use, text messages, phone ownership, music publishing, and photocopying, as well as intensified government propaganda through new TV channels, village education sessions, film showings, distribution of books, and the provision of satellite television receivers with fixed reception to government channels.

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