By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, May 8: Chinese authorities have targeted between 4,000 and 5,000 households in Tibet who have family ties to exile in India, Nepal and other countries outside Tibet, reported Tibet Watch on Wednesday. Dingri County in Shigatse City became one of the first places in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) where these investigations started in April.
The rights group stated that the officials forced Tibetans to register their names and identification numbers for their WeChat social media accounts. The government has been targeting individuals and social groups that have the potential to be influencers, labelling them under “black categories” or associate them with the “underworld forces” whose blacklisted families remain under strict surveillance.
Chinese authorities in Tibet launched a campaign called “Fight against underworld forces” in Feb. 2018 through which the government arrested many Tibetans. A report by Chinese state media identified twelve activities that would qualify the participant to be associated with “underworld forces” in the eyes of the state. The first point stated that citizens are considered to be engaged in this activity if they “interfere in local governance and to influence, to meddle in the people’s affairs to create obstruction and disturbance, using family clan and religious power to indulge in illegal activities to obstruct the regular life and output of other people in the name of a local leader or boss.”
The total number of arrests under this policy is yet unknown but official figures taken last year in January suggest that the numbers in TAR have already reached close to 400 convictions. “The policy was imposed to stop information from Tibet passing to Tibetan exiles and reaching the outside world,” rights group Free Tibet remarked.
“It is still extremely difficult and dangerous for Tibetans to investigate and smuggle information outside Tibet,” Cédric Alviani, East Bureau Chief of Reporters without Borders (RSF), told RFA, adding that that freedom of expression in Tibet has not improved due to the censorship and surveillance set up by Chinese Communist Party (CCP). RSF ranked China 117th out of 180 countries in an annual global press freedom index released in April. International press freedom groups also highlighted China’s increasingly tight curbs on media workers across the country ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Sunday.