As many as several hundred Tibetans from eastern areas of the Tibetan plateau who live in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), have been arbitrarily expelled from the city as part of a drastic security drive, Human Rights Watch said today. The policy measure appears to have been taken in response to an incident on May 27, 2012,in which two Tibetan protesters from eastern Tibet set themselves on fire in front of Lhasa’s famous Jokhangtemple.
Since the Jokhang incident, security forces in Lhasa have been carrying out sharply increased identity checks on the streets of the city. Tibetans from areas where protests have recently taken place, in eastern Tibet, have been ordered to leave not only the capital, but the TAR as well. Those expelled are not known to have been accused of any wrongdoing and there are no reports to date of non-Tibetans being expelled.
“This arbitrary expulsion of people because of their ethnicity or place of birth is clearly discriminatory and violates their basic rights to freedom of movement and residence,” said Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch. “Lhasa authorities should explain these extreme measures and be aware that additional arbitrary restrictions are likely to deepen tensions.”
Reports via social media and eyewitness reports shared with Human Rights Watch now indicate that Chinese authorities have imposed a range of limitations on movement in andaround Lhasa,including the expulsions, as well as a ban on public gatherings of more than three people in the city. This has ledto the cancellation of daily group activities,such as physical exercises normally held in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, according to a source in Tibet with direct knowledge of the events.
Human Rights Watch said these expulsions are unprecedented because they extend toTibetans who have valid business permits to live and work in Lhasa and who have been running businesses there for years. Other post-2008 expulsion campaigns around sensitive dates have focused only on those without permits to stay in Lhasa. Those currently targeted include Tibetans with valid temporary residence permits (zanzhuzhengin Chinese; gnas sdod lag khyerin Tibetan) to stay in the city.
Those expelled have not been not accused of any wrongdoing, are not believed to have any record of previous political activity, and do not have any known connection to the protestors involved in the recent immolations apart from being born in eastern Tibet.
On May 30, 2012, Hao Peng, a deputy Party secretary in the TAR, instructed all officials in the region that because “the Dalai clique’s sabotage activity has never ceased” they must “especially strengthen the control of key areas, [and] strengthen the service management of key personnel including the floating population,” a term sometimes used to refer to temporary residents and migrants from other provinces or areas of the Tibetan plateau.
The drive to push people out of Lhasa has been applied in particular to Tibetans from areas where there has been recent unrest, notably Aba (NgabaIin Tibetan) in Sichuan province, where at least 26 people have set themselves on fire in protest against Chinese rule since March2011, and Labrang, a Tibetan area in Gansu province which was the birthplace of one of the Tibetanswho self-immolated in Lhasa on May 27, 2012. Some reports suggest that Tibetans from Yunnan province, where there have been no political protests, are not among those being expelled from Lhasa.
In June 2012, asource in Lhasa told Human Rights Watch, “After the two Amdowans [Tibetans from the north-eastern Tibetan area] self-immolated in Lhasa in May, Lhasa started to expel all Amdowans. It didn’t matter if these Amdowans had lived in Lhasa for years or were doing business there, none of them could remain in Lhasa, aside from those who had a letter of guarantee from the Public Security Bureau in their original domicile and one from their county government. Their homes are searched every day by police and many people have already been driven out.” Exile Tibetan organizations in India and US-based Tibetan-language radio stations have reported that several people in Lhasa associated with the two men who immolated themselves on May 27, 2012, have been detained.
Two more Tibetans, both from eastern Tibet, have immolated themselves since the May 27 protest in Lhasa. One was a woman in her mid-thirties from Rangtang (Dzamthang in Tibetan) county in Aba prefecture, Sichuan, who died on May 30, and the other was a man said to be in his fifties who died on June 12 in Jianzha (Chentsa in Tibetan) county in Huangnan (Malho in Tibetan) prefecture, Qinghai.
After large-scale unrest in Lhasa in March 2008, the TARauthorities have indicated that they view non-permanent residents of the capital as the biggest risk for social stability since they are less easily policed and monitored than permanent residents.