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June 19, 2013

China Intensifies Digital, Human Surveillance of Tibetans

by VOA News

China appears to be intensifying its monitoring of Tibetans, requiring them to provide real names to IT service providers and sending thousands of Communist Party members to villages to observe their activities.

State-run news agency Xinhua said Wednesday the government of the Tibetan Autonomous Region has registered the real names of all Internet users and subscribers of fixed line and mobile phone services under its jurisdiction. It said 2.8 million Tibetan phone users and 1.5 million Tibetan Internet users completed the registration process by the end of 2012, as required by a regional law.

Xinhua quoted regional official Dai Jianguo as saying China's monitoring of the identities of Tibetan phone and Internet subscribers is necessary to curb "rampant circulation of online rumors, pornography and spam messages."

But, human rights activists accuse Beijing of significantly expanding its surveillance of Tibetans in recent years to try to suppress an ethnic group it sees as a security threat.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Wednesday Beijing has sent more than 20,000 Communist Party members to Tibetan villages to "undertake intrusive surveillance of people, carry out widespread political re-education, and establish partisan security units."

The group's China director Sophie Richardson told VOA such activities are quite different from improving Tibetan living standards, which Beijing declared as a goal of the village program, launched in 2011.

"There is this explicit surveillance agenda of monitoring people's political views, whether they have photos of the Dalai Lama, whether they know anything about immolations, I think it is particularly alarming to us that even children have essentially been interrogated by these cadres," she said. "They have also set up yet another form of local quasi police teams, which raises a lot of questions about whether arrests of detentions or even interrogations are taking place on the basis of objective law as opposed to partisan agenda."

The Chinese government views the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, as a separatist and a traitor. The Dalai Lama says he is merely seeking dialogue aimed at establishing Tibetan autonomy.

Beijing has tightened security in Tibetan areas following a series of mass anti-government demonstrations and riots in 2008 against what many Tibetans see as Chinese repression of their religion and culture.

Chinese authorities also have faced a wave of at least 119 self-immolations by Tibetans protesting Beijing's policies since 2009. Richardson said those challenges have hardened the Chinese government's view of Tibetans.

"We have really seen the central government and local authorities perceive Tibetans much more in criminal terms -- that to talk about immolation is being criminalized, that to express criticism of the government's policies is regarded much more harshly now than it was. So this level of surveillance certainly stems both from those concerns but also from the central government's national drive of stability maintenance which we've seen cause all sorts of similar problems in other parts of the country," she said.

China says its huge infrastructure investments in Tibetan areas have measurably improved the quality of life for Tibetans in recent years.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.