CHINA - Freedom of expression "systematically violated" in Tibet


    MONTREAL, March 9 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders is outraged by
the systematic violation of press freedom and free expression in Tibet.
Foreign journalists are finding it increasingly difficult to visit the
Himalayan province and free speech is being suppressed even more ruthlessly
there than in the rest of China. In the past few days, the editor of a Tibetan
website has been arrested, a Tibetan culture website has been closed and SMS
services have been suspended in parts of Sichuan province.
    "We urge the Chinese authorities to allow foreign journalists to visit
Tibet and the Tibetan regions
    freely," Reporters Without Borders said. "We also call on them to grant
the Tibet-based media more editorial freedom and to stop jamming international
radio stations broadcasting in the Tibetan language."
    The press freedom organisation added: "The crackdown launched after the
events of March 2008 has never stopped. The authorities have gone to great
lengths to impose the official version of events, denying the existence of
Tibetan victims. The statements full of hatred for Tibetans made by certain
Chinese officials are unacceptable. The government keeps reiterating the need
to maintain stability, but this translates into a relentless persecution of
dissidents in Tibet."
    The local authorities have meanwhile reinforced their media propaganda in
the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising on 10 March.
Tibet Daily said in a 16 February editorial that China was engaged in a
"life-or-death class struggle" with the "Dalai Lama clique and hostile western
forces."
    In recent days, the Chinese authorities in the Tibetan regions and
Beijing have systematically denied reports about incidents involving Tibetans.
An official in the district of Litang, in Sichuan province, told Agence
France-Presse on 18 February, for example, that there had been no
demonstration in the district although several sources said at least 20
Tibetans were arrested after a peaceful demonstration there.
    The foreign press has been unable to visit Tibet freely for decades and
the controls were tightened after the events of March 2008. On the eve of the
Tibetan new year and the 50th anniversary of the uprising, foreigners have
been forbidden all access to Tibet until 1 April at least, making the presence
of independent observers impossible. Foreign tourists in Lhasa have been asked
to leave the Himalayan province as quickly as possible.
    The Chinese have organised a few, very occasional press trips to Tibet.
The last was in mid-February. But as journalists with the French TV production
company Hikari said, "the criteria for choosing the media are not known and
the media chosen cannot move about freely." After visiting monasteries that
have been emptied of their monks, Arnaud de La Grange of the French daily Le
Figaro asked: "Why are journalists not allowed free access to Tibet, as they
are to the rest of China?"
    Journalists who try to do reporting in Tibetan regions without official
guides often find themselves being obstructed and even roughed up in violation
of the rules for foreign reporters that were renewed in October 2008. Two
Hikari journalists were prevented from working and then detained in early
February in Xiahe, the town in Gansu province where Labrang monastery is
located. "Police took us to a hotel where we waited two hours before being
driven several hundred kilometres to Lanzhou airport in a police car with the
revolving roof light flashing."
    Before being expelled, the journalists saw that the authorities had set
up road blocks and taken other security measures to prevent foreigners
entering the area. New York Times reporter Edward Wong was held for about 20
hours by the police while investigating the military presence in Gansu
province. Foreigners are not supposed to need permission to enter this region
but the police refused to give any explanation, Wong said in his article. The
Associated Press has meanwhile said its reporters were arrested twice recently
in Tibetan regions.
    When journalists arrive in Tibet, often on tourist visas, they find that
Tibetans are scared to talk to them. "There is a general feeling of mistrust
and paranoia as a result of the massive presence of security forces and the
security cameras installed in many places in the city," Reporters Without
Borders was told by a European journalist who visited Lhasa in 2008. "The
Tibetans know they are taking a big risk if they talk to a foreigner (...)
Many Lhasa residents are convinced there are microphones and cameras at street
corners, in shops and in taxis."
    Several sources said the Internet has been particularly slow in the
Tibetan regions in the run-up to the 10 March anniversary. But calls for a
boycott of the Tibetan new year, Losar, circulated widely on Tibetan blogs and
chat forums. The Beijing media broadcast the festivities and hailed the calm
and joy in Tibet after "50 years of democratic reforms."
    Kunchok Tsephel Gopey, the editor of the Tibetan website Chomei (The
Lamp), was arrested in Gannan, in Gansu province, on 26 February. Reporters
Without Borders fears that he is being mistreated, as he was when he was
arrested in 1995. Relatives said the police searched his house and confiscated
his computer.
    Created in 2005, Chomei (www.tibetcm.com) aims to promote Tibetan arts
and culture. Despite being repeatedly censored by the authorities, the website
has enabled young Tibetan poets and artists to express themselves.
    Another Tibetan website, Tibet Culture (www.tibetcul.com), has been not
been operational since 5 March. A message posted on the home page says the
closure is to due to "technical reasons" and thanks Internet users for their
"support." Meanwhile, it has proved impossible to send SMS messages in the
Tibetan parts of Sichuan province for the last few days. SMS messages were
used to organise demonstrations last year.
    The Chinese government has warned foreign government that might be
tempted to criticise the military controls and crackdown in Tibet. "It is
impossible for the West to cooperate with China if they do not follow an
objective and clear position on Tibet," said China Daily, one of the Communist
Party of China's mouthpieces, in its 5 March issue.
    Reporters Without Borders has talked to Tibetans who recently arrived in
northern India. Some mentioned warnings issued by local authorities about
contacts with foreigners. "A few foreign journalists succeeded in coming to
our village last year but the police threatened residents and told them not to
speak to the journalists," said a young man from Kham.
    A monk who was jailed for five years said he continues to be monitored in
Lhasa. "The police often follow me," he said. "My ID document is checked in
Internet cafés and many Tibetan websites are blocked. Tenpa Dhargye, a Tibetan
who spent nearly five years in prison, said: "Anyone trying to access a free
Tibet website is regarded as a Dalai Lama man and must be ready to end up in
prison."

    Wave of convictions for "illegally sending information abroad"

    Reporters Without Borders calls on the Chinese government to free all
Tibetans detained for expressing dissident views or for sending information
outside Tibet. Since March 2008, the press freedom organisation has noted a
marked increase in the number of Tibetans being tried for sending information
abroad, above all to Tibetan exile communities.
    In trials held on 27 October and 7 November 2008, a Lhasa intermediate
court convicted a total of seven Tibetans for participating in demonstrations
and illegally sending information outside China. They were given jail
sentences ranging from eight years to life. One, Wangdue, a former political
prisoner who had helped campaign against HIV in Tibet, was given a life
sentence for endangering state security. He had been held incommunicado from
14 March to 7 November by the Lhasa Public Security Bureau.
    Another, Migmar Dhondup, was given 14 years in prison on the same charge
of "endangering state security." Phuntsok Dorjee was sentenced to nine years
in prison followed by five years of loss of political rights on a "treason"
charge for "illegally giving information" to people outside China. Tsewang
Dorjee got eight year in jail on the same charge. Similarly, Sonam Dakpa and
Sonam Tseten got 10 years and Yeshi Choedon got 15 years.
    According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, an
intermediate court in Kardze, a town in Dartsedo county (in Sichuan province),
sentenced Ludrub Phuntsok, a 23-year-old monk and editor from Ngaba (Sichuan),
to 13 years in prison on 23 October on a charge of "endangering state
security." A brilliant student at Amchok monastery and editor of the magazine
Maseng Shedra (Flowers of Expression), he was arrested for taking part in a
peaceful demonstration in Tibet on 16 March 2008.
    Logyam, a Tibetan writer from Ngaba who wrote articles for Maseng Shedra,
is serving a six-year prison sentence in Maowar prison in Sichuan for
compiling and disseminating articles and speeches by the Dalai Lama. Aged 36,
he has been held since 2005 and has reportedly been beaten repeatedly by
prison guards for refusing to criticise the Tibetan spiritual leader.
    The reinforced security forces in Tibet have arrested dozens of Tibetans
in the run-up to the 10 March anniversary. Most of them are held in a former
military base at Denggongtang, east of Lhasa, or have been forcibly sent back
to their region of origin.



For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org