China continues crackdown on WeChat in Tibet

WeChat training session for Tibetans in Zeku (Tibet Post)

4th October 2017

New measures have been introduced to restrict Tibetans freedom of expression online.

Authorities in Zeku County, Qinghai Province, are requiring compulsory training for chat organisers on the popular Chinese instant messaging platform WeChat.

On September 27, local authorities instructed local Tibetans that the content in their group chats should adhere to Chinese law and stressed that organisers were required to block 'illegal’ content which would include references to Tibetan independence.

According to the Tibet Post it has been alleged that chat organizers would be held responsible for this content.

WeChat is the most popular message app in China and in Tibet, which allows users to connect with hundreds of people and share information, images and other media.

As a result the platform is closely monitored by the Peoples Republic of China.

Human Rights Watch has highlighted Beijing's WeChat policies that have aimed to restrict free expression since 2013. This has led to numerous accounts being shut down and Tibetans being forced to register using their full names.

Key terms relating to human rights and democracy are also blocked by WeChat. Not only does this make it difficult to obtain information out of Tibet but it also puts Tibetans who attempt to raise these issues in danger.

In 2015, Tsering Dondrub was detained for posting images of the Tibetan flag and the Dalai Lama on WeChat. Such crackdowns are not uncommon. Free Tibet has reported on a number of similar cases including a man who was beaten and arrested for sharing writings on the preservation of Tibetan language and images of the Dalai Lama. Another three Tibetans were arrested, according to locals, because of their conversations with exiled Tibetans about the 2016 Central Tibetan Authority elections.

The spread of cheaper smartphones and connectivity has allowed the PRC to step up its surveillance in Tibet. The fact that other online platforms are banned by Beijing in Tibet, and across China, means that many Tibetans rely on this service to communicate.

These new training sessions for Tibetans once again highlights the lengths Chinese authorities will go to restrict freedom of speech inside Tibet.

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