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China tightens access to information in Tibetan monasteries

Multi-year plan sees crackdown on unauthorized satellite access and installation of government-approved TVs
China tightens access to information in Tibetan monasteries

Tibetan monks read Buddhist texts in the audience hall of Drepung Monastery, at the foot of Mount Gephel, in Lhasa, Tibet, August 29, 2013 (Picture: CaptainImages / Shutterstock.com)

Published: June 19, 2015 09:43 AM GMT
Updated: June 18, 2015 10:43 PM GMT

China has finished installing televisions in every one of Tibet’s nearly 1,800 Buddhist monasteries as Beijing steps up efforts to control information in the restive Himalayan region.

The scheme required monks and nuns to carry television sets on their backs or on horses across high mountain passes over the past three and half years to achieve complete coverage, the state-run Tibet Daily reported yesterday.

“By listening to the radio and watching television, monks and nuns have a more intuitive understanding of the party and the country’s policies, laws and regulations, ethnic and religious policies,” it added.

Completion of the scheme has coincided with a new “patriotic program” launched by Tibet’s Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo in April that requires all temples to fly China’s national flag.

Beijing began its latest information war in Tibet during 2009 — a year after an uprising led by monks — when authorities piloted a television and radio scheme at 44 temples in Lhasa.

The government has long been irritated by services including Voice of America, sponsored by the US State Department, which beams in Tibetan-language news on human rights and exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Authorities started posting notices in monasteries that had failed to replace old satellite televisions in 2013, threatening fines of 5,000 yuan (US$805) and “other consequences that should be borne by the monks themselves”.

Officials then destroyed “illegal” televisions in bonfires, said Tsering Tsomo, director of the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala, the Indian city where the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles are based.

“The Chinese government is trying really hard to try to stop Tibetans from getting any information from outside,” she told ucanews.com. “It has gotten much worse and we are very concerned. Now what we see is the government punishing Tibetans just for sharing information.”

Police detained eight monks in March for allegedly sharing news on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat at their monastery in Sog County, according to the London-based campaign group Free Tibet.

In 2012, senior monk Yonten Gyatso was sentenced to seven years in prison for sharing images of nun Tenzin Wangmo, one of about 140 Tibetans who have self-immolated to protest against Chinese rule since the 2008 uprising.

As Beijing has cracked down on information sharing, Tibetans have devised new methods to get information in and out of the region, although these could not be revealed for security reasons, said Tsering Tsomo.

“This is like a cat and mouse game, they try to block something from outside and then Tibetans come up with something else so we share information, and then they crack down again,” she said.

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