Restrictions on news, media, and communications in Tibet have been stepped up by Chinese authorities in the lead-up to the 18th Party Congress, due to take place in late 2012.
The measures appear to be an effort to cut off Tibetans in China from news not subjected to the government’s domestic monopoly on information. They are presented officially as an attempt to prevent the views of the exiled Dalai Lama and his followers from reaching Tibetans inside China, particularly those living in rural areas.
The new restrictions, described in the official Renmin Wang media outlet on May 31, 2012, as key to maintaining stability and national security, aim to “ensure the absolute security of Tibet’s ideological and cultural realm,” according to Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Party Secretary Chen Quanguo in a June 27 interview. The measures involve significantly increased controls, particularly in the TAR, 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. As a result, Tibetans have virtually no access to independent news, are being subject to intensifying political education and propaganda in villages, schools, and monasteries, and face increasing limitations on travel into the TAR from other provinces.
“Under the guise of combating ‘separatism’ the Chinese government is blatantly violating Tibetans’ rights to the freedom of expression, religion, culture, and movement,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “The authorities have a responsibility to uphold public order, but that cannot be used as a blanket justification for the kinds of measures to limit communications that the Chinese authorities are imposing in Tibet.”
According to a Xizang Ribao Online article on November 18, 2011, the measures follow an instruction by Party Secretary Chen to “promote full coverage by radio, television, publications, and networks to…enable the voice of the Party and government to cover the whole of this vast territory” of the TAR and to exert strict control over the media “to effectively purify the public opinion environment … and strike hard at separatist elements entering Tibet to carry out reactionary propaganda.”
In June 2012, Chen urged officials to “make sure that the Central Party’s voices and images can be heard across 120 thousand square kilometers,” and that “no voices and images of enemy forces and Dalai clique can be heard and seen.”
The scope of the new restrictions reflect a sharp change in official views about Tibetan unrest, which officials previously stated was caused by “a small number” or “a handful” of Tibetans, mostly monks and nuns plus a few urban laypeople, who were considered to have been influenced by the Dalai Lama or by exile groups. But following protests across the Tibetan plateau in 2008, leaders there have now acknowledged, at least in the domestic press, that the influence of the Dalai Lama is widespread among Tibetans, including in rural areas, where some 85 percent of Tibetans live.
These new measures are part of a Tibet-specific policy called “the Four Stabilities” that was announced by China’s leader Hu Jintao in an internal speech in early March 2012. They are being carried out in the name of the slogan “stability overrides all” (wending yadao yiqie) in order to “keep a tight hand on the struggle against separatism.” The goals include achieving “the overall coverage of internet management in towns and in the rural areas” (Xizang Ribao, March 19, 2012) and “strengthening the management of new media” (Xizang Ribao, March 18, 2012). On May 30, 2012, Hao Peng, a deputy party secretary of the TAR, told officials that, because of “the Dalai clique’s sabotage activity,” they must “strengthen the work of guiding the media,” “strengthen the supervision and management of new media such as the Internet,” and “firmly strike against the criminal activity of creating and spreading rumors by using internet and mobile phone text messaging” (Xizang Ribao, May 31, 2012).
Controls on travel from inland provinces into the TAR have also been tightened significantly since March 2012, with new limitations on travel into the TAR by monks, nuns, and lay Tibetans from outside the TAR. Additional restrictions on travel by foreigners to the TAR were introduced in May 2012 and again in early June.
These restrictions on movement into the TAR by Tibetans from outside the region appear to be designed to prevent protests taking place in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, particularly following the almost 40 self-immolations that have occurred in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces since March 2011. These protests appear to have been in response to increasing limits on basic freedoms, increasingly punitive security measures, and other concerns.