Four Tibetans detained after authorities step up mobile phone checks

A Tibetan man carries a portrait of Dalai Lama, whose image is banned in Tibet
A Tibetan man carries a portrait of Dalai Lama, whose image is banned in Tibet
20th July 2021

Authorities in Serthar County have been increasingly checking Tibetans' phones for images of the Dalai Lama

Chinese authorities have arbitrarily arrested four Tibetans while digitally investigating individual mobile phones in eastern Tibet. 

The phones were thoroughly searched for photos of the Dalai Lama and checked for contact records with Tibetans who are living in exile, which the Chinese government labels as being ‘politically sensitive’. 

On 4 July 2021, Public Security Bureau (PSB) in Dartsang Township in Serthar County carried out an investigative campaign in the area and searched individual mobile phones of local Tibetans through phone numbers that had been registered with identity cards. The records of identity cards and linked phone numbers are kept at the local security department. During the search operation, the PSB arrested four Tibetans, including a local village leader, under suspicion of possessing ‘politically sensitive’ content. But currently, the names of the detainees and their whereabouts remain unknown.

"They were arrested under suspicion for keeping the Dalai Lama's photos in their mobile phones. In fact, they did nothing criminal and their family members are not losing hopes and waiting for them to be released soon", a source told Tibet Watch on a condition of anonymity.

Interrogations after Dalai Lama portrait found

On 3 July, three uniformed police officers from the PSB entered Jangchup Gayphel Monastery in Dartsang Township and conducted a search operation in the prayer hall. On finding a portrait of the Dalai Lama on the altar of the hall, the officers immediately confiscated it and summoned all of the heads of the monastery and concerned monks to the local police station for interrogation.

Restrictions across Tibet have increased during July, during which time the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding is being celebrated. Authorities in Serthar County "prohibited any civil gatherings/ festivals or monastic prayers and religious events" in the month of July except for the state-oriented arrangements and events. 

The restrictions in July were in addition to the Chinese government’s campaigns in July every year to prevent any expression of celebration of the birthday of the Dalai Lama, which falls on 6 July. There have been repeated crackdowns on Tibetans in the past for just celebrating this revered occasion.

Information supplied by Tibet Watch.