China has criminalised expressions of support for increased autonomy in Tibet for the first time, NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Monday.
The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Security Bureau published a revised list of definitions of “organised crimes” in February, including “instilling in the masses reactionary ideas such as the ‘middle way,’” HRW said. The “middle way” is a reference to a call from the Dalai Lama in April for more regional autonomy, not independence. The Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.
The NGO said that the new restrictions aim to strengthen the power of the Chinese Communist Party at a grassroots level, by eradicating the influence of traditional Tibetan leaders and lamas.
China has cracked down on organised community action in Tibet following protests by Tibetan monks against the Chinese authorities in the regional capital of Lhasa in 2008. Beijing has said that the measures are necessary to prevent “separatist” movements and to cut off support for the Dalai Lama.
China incorporated Tibet into the mainland in 1950 following the Chinese Civil War and says that it has since brought development to the region. But Beijing has been accused of trying to eradicate the region’s Buddhist-based culture through political and religious repression.
The newly-issued Security Bureau notice promised citizens anonymity if they reported “crimes by underworld forces” or “gang crimes” to the police, HRW’s 101-page report said. Another notice issued in the Tibetan city of Nagqu offered a 100,000 Yuan (HK$114,993) reward for tip-offs about any of the listed activities, which include challenging China’s territorial claims over Tibet, raising funds for the “Dalai clique,” and advocacy for the greater use of the Tibetan language. Additionally, traditional Tibetan welfare associations – known as “kyidu” – are now reportedly considered illegal.
A Tibetan language activist Tashi Wangchuk was jailed for five years in May for “separatism” charges after he spoke to New York Times journalists about threats to Tibetan language teaching in his province of Qinghai.
China has been a member of the United Nations since 1945 and is a signatory of its 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose provisions aim to protect the human rights of all people in participating nations. But HRW said that these new regulations are evidence of China’s systematic violation of human rights in Tibetan areas.
“Beijing repeatedly claims that Tibetans have autonomy and their rights as an ethnic minority are respected,” said China director of Human Rights Watch Sophie Richardson. “But the realities show only increasing repression of Tibetans’ daily lives and basic human rights.”
According to HRW, China has criminalised social activism in Tibet since 2012.
Last month, Chinese authorities banned Tibetan students from taking part in religious activities over the summer holidays.