China’s continuing crackdown on press freedom and the right to information in Tibet concentrates above all on those who try to publish, distribute or read the exiled Dalai Lama’s writings, Reporters Without Borders said today on the eve of the Tibetan spiritual leader’s 70th birthday on 6 July.
The Chinese authorities are relentless in their efforts to eliminate any sense of identity in the Tibetan population, closely monitoring and often punishing monasteries viewed as cultural centres supporting Tibetan autonomy and the leadership of the Dalai Lama, who lives in neighbouring India.
Harsh repressive measures deprive millions of Tibetans of the right to be informed and to express themselves, Reporters Without Borders said.
Tashi Gyaltsen, Lobsang Dhargay, Thoe Samden, Tsultrim Phelgay and Jampel Gyatso of Drakar Trezong monastery were arrested on 16 January and are now in a labour camp in Qinghai, near Xining, in northwestern China, serving sentences of two to three years of reeducation through work for publishing a newspaper containing poems and articles of a political nature.
According to the Indian-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, the Chinese authorities ban all publications, printed material, photocopies and distribution of audiovisual material that comes from abroad and advocates Tibetan independence. The official media regularly carry reminders of the ban. The Chinese propaganda department and the public security ministry have the job of enforcing these measures.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the Chinese government’s use of national security laws to restrict the dissemination of news and information in Tibet. Articles 103 and 105 of the Chinese criminal code impose harsh penalties on those who incite "the breakdown of national unity" and the "subversion of state authority."
Nyima Tsering, for example, a former monk who taught Tibetan and Buddhism at Gyantse, was arrested in 2002 for distributing pro-independence documents. He was sentenced in June 2003 to five years in prison for threatening state security and is currently serving his sentence in Drapchi prison in Lhassa.
Phuntsok Tsering, a 24-year-old monk from the Lhatse region, was arrested on 21 December 2001 for having a teaching book of the Dalai Lama in his possession. He is still detained.
In October 2004, the authorities decreed that "Tibetan Journal," a book by Chinese-language poet Woeser with favourable references to the Dalai Lama, contained "political errors." The book was censored and Woeser was harassed by the authorities. She lost her job, home, health and retirement benefits. At the same time, she is unable to leave China because she has been denied a passport.
It is an uphill struggle for Tibetans to get access to non-governmental information. All the news media are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party or state bodies. There are only a few underground publications produced by Tibetans, above all monks.
Chinese and Tibetan journalists are forced to comply with state directives. Every year, the government gives them a lists of subjects to be covered as a priority. The authorities reiterated last year that reports and articles about the activities of international organisations in Tibet and demonstrations against the government were strictly banned. As regards religion, only articles about officially-approved religious expressions are permitted.
The ubiquitous presence of party members in key management posts in the Tibetan media prevents any possibility of editorial freedom. Articles are subject to lengthy vetting procedures before they are published.
The systematic use of the Chinese language in the media poses another major obstacle to Tibetan access to information. Qinghai TV has a very limited slot, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., for Tibetan-language programmes. A 15-minute daily news bulletin in Tibetan is broadcast at 5 p.m. while the Chinese-language news programme goes out at 7 p.m., a peak viewing time.
The production of original Tibetan-language programmes is virtually non-existent. Between 80 and 90 per cent of the programmes broadcast in Tibetan on Quinghai TV are dubbed versions of Chinese-language programmes.
The US-based Radio Free Asia and Voice of America and the Indian-based Voice of Tibet are the main radio stations broadcasting Tibetan-language programming to Tibet, but they are systematically jammed.
Thanks to the acquisition of ALLISS antennae made by the French company Thalès, the Chinese authorities have improved their jamming capabilities. Installed above all in the far northwestern city of Kashi, they are used to jam international radio signals.
Radio Free Asia broadcasts on 10 different frequencies in an attempt to get round the censorship, but they are all systematically jammed by diffuse noise or music. The authorities recently installed new jamming towers in Pemba (in the Chamdo region) and since then residents have been unable to get Voice of America.
The authorities have distributed new radio sets to the population in the Kardze region on the grounds that they are of better quality than the old ones. But they are preset and blocked on to a fixed bandwidth and cannot be tuned into international stations.