Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Intrusive Chinese surveillance grid to permanently monitor Tibetans

Watchdog terms it “continuous human rights violation”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Jan 16

Since 1958, when Tibetan-inhabited areas erupted in armed revolt against Chinese rule, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has propagated the convenient myth that unrest in Tibet is the handiwork of “a small number of troublemakers”, orchestrated by the “Dalai clique” in India.

Now, the indefinite extension of a vast Chinese surveillance programme across all 5,000 villages in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) makes it plain that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) regards every Tibetan as suspect.

The intrusive surveillance grid is detailed in a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, “China: No End to Tibet Surveillance Program”, released on Monday. Imposed in 2011 for a three-year period, the surveillance is set to become permanent.

The report describes an “Orwellian campaign” intended to guard against any recurrence of the mass protests that engulfed TAR in 2008, after originating in the Tibetan-inhabited areas in the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan.

The 2008 protests, which embarrassed China in the year of the Beijing Olympics, marked the 50th anniversary of the 1958 Tibetan uprising in Amdo and Kham regions --- parts of the Tibetan plateau, now merged into Chinese provinces.

The surveillance programme, which consumed a quarter of the regional government’s budget, involved 21,000 communist cadres fanning out in groups of four or more to live in each of Tibet’s 5,000 villages. The report says their role was initially described as improving conditions in the villages, but the CCP chief in TAR admitted in 2011 that “their primary requirement was to turn each village into ‘a fortress’ in ‘the struggle against separatism.’”

In typically paternalistic CCP rhetoric, the surveillance campaign was entitled “Benefit the Masses”. Its official slogan was: “all villages become fortresses, and everyone is a watchman”. The party cadres have been “re-educating” the Tibetan villagers with programmes like “Feeling the Party’s Kindness”.

According to the report, the intrusive surveillance of Tibetans included “questioning them about their political and religious views, subjecting thousands to political indoctrination, establishing partisan security units to monitor behavior, and collecting information that could lead to detention or other punishment. Official reports describe the teams pressuring villagers to publicly show support for the ruling Communist Party and to oppose the Dalai Lama.”

“The Chinese government’s decision to extend its Tibet surveillance program indefinitely is nothing less than a continuous human rights violation,” said Sophie Richardson, China director of HRW. “The new normal is one of permanent surveillance of Tibetans.”

The “village-based cadre teams” incorporate CCP officials, government officers and security officials from the People’s Armed Police. Each team includes at least one Tibetan as translator. A team’s tour of duty in a particular village is about one year.

“Before 2011, there were no qualified party officials permanently stationed below township level. Intensive security measures were used in trouble spots, especially places and monasteries with a political record of opposition to CCP rule. However, the entire population was not earlier targeted at this level”, says India-based Tibet analyst, Matthew Akester. 

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