Ahead of Sensitive Dates, Lhasa Officials Add "Strike Hard" to Crackdown

August 30, 2009

Officials in Lhasa city, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), have implemented a "strike hard" anti-crime campaign running from mid-January until late March 2009―a period of time that brackets a series of dates that many Tibetans consider to have a high level of cultural and political sensitivity.

Officials in Lhasa city, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), have implemented a "strike hard" anti-crime campaign running from mid-January until late March 2009―a period of time that brackets a series of dates that many Tibetans consider to have a high level of cultural and political sensitivity. The campaign aims to "strike hard according to law against all kinds of illegal criminal activity and to vigorously uphold the city's social order and stability," according to a January 23 report (in Chinese) published in the Communist Party-run Lhasa Evening News (LEN).

The "strike hard" campaign took effect as Lhasa residents entered the 11th month of a well-entrenched security crackdown that People's Armed Police (PAP) and public security officials established following the cascade of Tibetan protests that began in Lhasa on March 10, 2008, and by April had reached across the TAR and Tibetan autonomous areas located in Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces. Tibetan protesters resorted to rioting on March 14-15 in Lhasa and other nearby locations. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) reported in its 2008 Annual Report that as a result of the Chinese government crackdown on Tibetan communities, monasteries, nunneries, schools, and workplaces following the wave of Tibetan protests, Chinese government repression of Tibetans' freedoms of speech, religion, and association had increased to what may be the highest level since approximately 1983, when Tibetans were able to set about reviving Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. (See International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), "Tibet at a Turning Point, 6 August 08, for more information on the crackdown.)

LEN reported that the "strike hard" campaign during its first week deployed a substantial amount of security resources―a force certain to attract residents' notice―but information in the report shows that "strike hard" personnel detected relatively little alleged criminal activity. More than 600 personnel using more than 160 vehicles were mobilized by January 21, according to the January 23 LEN report. On January 25, LEN reported (in Chinese) that in the first week security officials conducted checks on a total 8,424 persons at 3,813 rented residences, 33 hotels and guest houses, 56 bars and Internet cafes, and 30 residential courtyards. Police detained a total of 51 of the 8,424 persons (0.6 percent) on suspicion of criminal activity, including 30 on suspicion of theft, burglary, and prostitution. Two of the detainees had "reactionary discussion" and "reactionary songs" on their cell phones, the LEN report said.

"Strike hard" officials checked whether or not each of the 8,424 persons they examined had a permit to be in Lhasa―only 148 persons (1.8 percent) did not. NGOs and media organizations have reported that officials have intensified such checks since the early stages of the crackdown (see, e.g., China Digital Times, 30 April 08; Radio Free Asia (RFA), 5 November 08; and ICT, 13 November 08). Persons visiting Lhasa for as little as four days must register with public security officials, according to a January 23 Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy report.

The "strike hard" campaign will be in force during a 70-day period that brackets a series of dates that Tibetans regard as sensitive. The campaign will not expire until March 29 if measured from the January 18 launch date announced in the LEN report, or until March 31 if measured from a January 20 "comprehensively launched" date that LEN provided in a second January 23 report (in Chinese). The campaign will be active during the following observances and anniversaries.

  • Tibetan New Year (Losar), February 25, 2009. Some Tibetans living in Tibetan autonomous areas of China intend to express in a passive manner their discontent with developments over the past year, including the death and imprisonment of Tibetan protesters, by foregoing the usual celebration of Losar. Reuters reported from Lhasa on February 12 that "many Tibetans" are boycotting Losar celebrations "in quiet defiance of the crackdown." A February 11 Xinhua report said that Nyima Tsering, Vice Chairman of the TAR People's Congress Standing Committee (TAR PCSC), at a February 10 press conference in Lhasa urged Tibetans to continue with Losar celebrations "in response to an underground campaign by some secessionists to boycott the festival." "Tibetan people are enjoying a good life now," Nyima Tsering said, "there is no reason for them to forgo celebrating their traditional holiday this year." If Chinese government officials choose to characterize Tibetan non-celebration of the New Year as an expression of "splittism," a crime under Article 103 of the Criminal Law, then authorities could pressure Tibetans to choose between celebrating Losar or facing the possibility of punishment that could include criminal prosecution.
  • Fiftieth anniversary of March 10, 1959, the date when tens of thousands of Tibetans in Lhasa gathered outside the Dalai Lama's Norbulingka residence because they feared a People's Liberation Army plot to harm him. The Dalai Lama escaped from Lhasa a week later and fled into exile. On March 10 of every year since 1960 the Dalai Lama has made a formal statement to the Tibetan people. (See the Web site of the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a chronology, biographical information on the Dalai Lama, and an archive of March 10 statements.)
  • First anniversary of March 10, 2008, the start of the wave of Tibetan protests. The protests resulted in a large number of Tibetan deaths, detentions, and disappearances according to reports by media and NGOs, but Chinese government measures to prevent information from leaving China have prevented a complete and accurate accounting of the consequences. Chinese officials blamed "the Dalai Clique" for "masterminding" the 2008 protests and rioting, and did not acknowledge the role of rising Tibetan frustration with Chinese policies. (See the CECC 2008 Annual Report for information on the Tibetan protests and their consequences. See Tibet: Special Focus for 2007 of the 2007 Annual Report, and Section VIII―Tibet of the 2006 Annual Report for additional information on Chinese government and Communist Party policies that deprive Tibetans of rights and freedoms nominally protected under China's Constitution and legal system.)
  • First observance of "Serfs Emancipation Day", March 28, 2009. The TAR People's Congress established the holiday on January 19, 2009, to commemorate the March 28, 1959, Chinese government decree that dissolved the Dalai Lama's Lhasa-based Tibetan government. Legchog (Lieque), the Chairman of the TAR PCSC, said on January 16, 2009, that Serfs Emancipation Day would "strengthen Tibetans' patriotism," according to a January 16 Xinhua report. RFA reported on January 16 that TAR prefectural and county officials had met to "ensure that all people mark the occasion with festivities." Chinese government measures to pressure Tibetans into celebrating the end of the Dalai Lama's government (and, by association, the departure of the Dalai Lama), have already provoked protests. For example, about 300 Tibetans, including monks, protested on January 10 in Jiangda (Jomda) county, Changdu (Chamdo) prefecture, TAR, in an attempt to dissuade local officials from sending a Tibetan dance troupe to Lhasa to participate in Serfs Emancipation Day celebrations, according to a February 9 Phayul report. Officials forced the dance troupe to depart for Lhasa on January 15 and authorities detained at least seven monks on January 24, the report said.

A Lhasa government official and the Dalai Lama have said in separate statements that current tensions could result in further protests. Lhasa Deputy Mayor Cao Bianjiang referred to the Dalai Lama at a February 10 press conference in Lhasa and said that "some people . . . do not want to see the peaceful development of Lhasa's economy," according to a Reuters report that day. "So it cannot be entirely avoided that some people continue to cause disturbances," Cao said. The Dalai Lama said on February 11 while visiting Germany that there is "too much anger" in Tibet and that "[a]t any moment an outburst could happen," according to Telegraph (U.K.) and Voice of America reports the same day. According to information accessible by the public in the CECC Political Prisoner Database (PPD) as of February 17, 2009, security officials detained 24 Tibetans during January 2009 for political protest activity―more than during January in any other year since Tibetans resumed political activism in September 1987. The average number of political detentions of Tibetans during January in the years 1988 through 2008 was 3.7, based on information accessible by the public in the PPD. The increase in 2009 is consistent with statements anticipating a sustained increase in Tibetan protest activity noted above. The January 2009 detentions also are noteworthy for several other reasons.

  • The actual number of detentions during January may continue to increase beyond what has been reported thus far as additional information continues to come to light.
  • The Jiangda county protest was forward-looking, focusing on March 28 "Serfs Emancipation Day" ceremonies, rather than reactive, such as Tibetan protests against anti-Dalai Lama and "patriotic education" campaigns.
  • All 24 of the January 2009 detentions recorded in the PPD took place in Changdu prefecture or Ganzi (Kardze) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Sichuan province. The two prefectures border each other, with the Yangzi River forming a boundary.
  • January has concluded only recently―the actual number of January protests and detentions may surpass what has been reported so far.

International media organizations have reported that Chinese authorities are closing Tibetan areas to foreign travelers in advance of the sensitive dates. According to a February 18 Telegraph (U.K.) report, officials in the TAR told tourist agencies not to accept tour groups for an unspecified period of time expected to last at least until the end of March. According to a February 12 Associated Press (AP) report (reprinted in Washington Post), several unidentified foreign journalists reported being expelled from unspecified Tibetan-populated areas of China during the week preceding the report. A tourism official in Gannan (Kanlho) TAP said that Gannan would be closed to foreigners until late March, according to the same report. Officials had closed parts of Ganzi TAP that had been open in late January, and only 3 counties (of 18) in the prefecture would remain open, AP said.

Ganzi and Gannan TAPs have been especially active protest areas since March 2008, based on information available in the CECC PPD. Ganzi TAP has been the site of more detentions of Tibetan protesters (not rioters) than any other prefectural-level Tibetan area during the period of protest that began on March 10, 2008. None of the 12 county-level areas where China's state-run media reported Tibetan rioting are located in Ganzi TAP (see Section V―Tibet, CECC 2008 Annual Report, endnote 6). As of February 23, 2009, the PPD contained information on 528 Tibetan protesters detained on or after March 10, 2008. Security officials detained 213 (40 percent) of the 528 protesters in Ganzi TAP. Authorities detained the next largest number of Tibetan protesters―82 persons―in Gannan TAP. PPD information on the detention of Tibetan protesters since March 10, 2008, is far from complete. Chinese government efforts to prevent information about the detention and imprisonment of Tibetan protesters from leaving China have prevented a complete and accurate accounting of the cases.