News and Views on Tibet

Tibetans with contacts in exile ordered to install spyware on cell phone

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By Choekyi Lhamo

DHARAMSHALA, Feb. 11: Tibetans in Dragyab County and Chamdo with contacts in exile have reportedly been ordered to install spyware on cell phone in order to keep them on close watch. The Dharamshala-based research group Tibet Watch said that local sources in Tibet have confirmed the use of cell phone spyware that actively monitors Tibetans with contacts in exile.

Chinese authorities in Drag-yab County (Ch: Zhag’yab County) and Chamdo have reportedly been keeping a close eye on families of exiled Tibetans with increased surveillance from the last two years. In Drag-yab, Lobsang Tsomo, a Tibetan nun, was arrested by Chinese police around mid-November on suspicion of contacting Tibetans living outside Tibet.

“China has aggressively enforced the use of software in the phones of concerned individuals. The local source in Tibet has told us how the authorities keep an eye on everything they do on their phones. The situation in these regions has become highly sensitive. From 2017 to 2021, what has now transpired is that even families are finding it difficult to contact their loved ones. Now the government suspects anybody who has any contact outside,” researcher Pema Gyal from Tibet Watch told Phayul. The group also claimed that this new surveillance tactic was recently introduced which requires individuals to install an application on their phones.

The application reportedly allows unprecedented access to phone data and leaves the person vulnerable to all sorts of intimidation from the state. “Anyone found with photos and videos deemed “politically sensitive” by police authorities and contacting Tibetans living outside Tibet were arbitrarily detained for two to three months. They have also been kept under surveillance upon release and subjected to restrictions on movement,” the report further revealed.

The report said that Lobsang Tsomo was detained for three months in police custody and was severely beaten during her interrogations. In addition, she is being prevented from traveling outside the jurisdiction of her county. The anonymous source also suggested that several other nuns have been arrested along with Tsomo, but the group couldn’t independently verify the arrests.

Pema Gyal highlighted the fear Tibetans are compelled to face under such a regime, “There have been instances in one of the monasteries where Chinese officials arrived to warn the monks that if they are in possession of information that could put them in jeopardy. This is just one example. The extent of surveillance has reached every part of Tibet. This is not something out of my own imagination, this is real.” In another report, three more Tibetans were detained in Drago County in January for having photos and videos on their phones of the recent demolitions of Buddha statues at Drago monastery. Two men, Asang and Dota, and a woman named Nortso were arrested after their phones were searched upon their return from pilgrimage. 

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