Tibet under de facto martial law on eve of sensitive anniversary

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Images from inside Tibet show Tibetan town under military siege

China has expelled journalists from Tibet and placed the region under de facto martial law on the eve of a momentous anniversary (1) which China fears may provoke protests on the scale of those that swept across Tibet last year (2).

Eyewitness reports collected by Free Tibet, and media reports citing witnesses in the region, have spoken of many thousands of extra troops and paramilitary forces being deployed to key regions of Tibet in recent weeks. On February 21 The Times reported (3) that troops from the Chengdu Military Region had been ordered into restive regions of eastern Tibet (Chinese province: Sichuan). The report estimated that up to 20,000 troops had been deployed, although the exact number could not be confirmed as troop movements are a state secret in China.

A New York Times reporter was able to visit eastern Tibet in recent days before being detained and forced to return to Beijing. In his article (4) the reporter described “an unofficial state of martial law” in Machu town (Ch: Maqu town, Gansu province) and surrounding areas in eastern Tibet. The reporter described the Tibetan areas through which he travelled as “militarized zones”; he witnessed sandbag outposts in the middle of towns, military convoys moving along the main highways and paramilitaries from the People’s Armed Police (PAP) searching civilian cars.

The Times and New York Times reports help confirm separate eyewitness accounts received by Free Tibet of troop build-ups in other sensitive regions of eastern Tibet. Free Tibet has also received photos (5) taken recently in the monastery town of Labrang (Ch: Xia He, Gansu province) which clearly show the heavy presence of troops and paramilitaries on the town’s streets and approaches to the monastery (for images and further details please see note 6 below).

The intensification of China’s security stranglehold has not been confined to eastern Tibet. Journalists that have travelled to Lhasa in recent months have reported an overt and threatening military presence on the streets of the Tibetan capital and snipers placed on roof tops. On January 23 the official Lhasa Evening News reported the launch on January 18 of a “strike-hard” campaign in Lhasa: around 3000 Tibetan homes were searched, 6000 Tibetans questioned and more than 80 detained (7).

Upsurge in protests across Tibet as anniversary nears

There has been a noticeable upsurge of protests inside Tibet in spite of China’s intense and provocative security clampdown. Since January protests have been reported across a widespread area, including both central and eastern areas of Tibet (8). Hundreds of monks gathered at various monasteries in eastern Tibet in defiance of official bans forbidding the observance of religious ceremonies associated with Losar, the traditional Tibetan New Year festival (9). Two of the monasteries have subsequently been reported to have been surrounded by Chinese troops. A Tibetan who had made an earlier public call for Tibetans not to celebrate Losar was quickly joined by hundreds of other Tibetans in two days of protests in the restive region of Lithang (Ch prov: Sichuan) (10). Last week Free Tibet reported on an incident in eastern Tibet in which, according to eyewitnesses, armed Chinese paramilitaries fired at a Tibetan monk who had set himself alight (11).

Director of Free Tibet, Stephanie Brigden, said:

“China’s provocative troop deployments and surrounding of Tibetan monasteries has ensured that the stakes could not be higher in Tibet on the eve of next week’s 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising and flight of the Dalai Lama into exile. Chinese paramilitaries have already shown they are prepared to fire with impunity at Tibetan protesters. And with Tibetans showing their determination to protest in the face of China’s clampdown, the conditions are clearly in place for a potential catastrophe. Gordon Brown and other world leaders must break their silence on Tibet and respond to the recent call by the Tibetan government in exile for urgent intervention if we are to avoid a repeat of last year’s bloody crackdown on Tibetan protesters.”


Notes to Editor:

(1) March 10 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising of 1959 when more than 80,000 Tibetan men, women were slaughtered by Chinese troops.

(2) More information, including photos and vide footage from last year’s protests in Tibet, are available at: www.freetibet.org

(3) The Times’s report is available at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article5775335.ece

(4) The New York Times’ article is available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/world/asia/05tibet.html

(5) Free Tibet’s report including photos from Labrang is available at: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/250209

(6) Full set of images showing troop build-up in Labrang is available at: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/photos-labrang-12-february-2009

(7) The Guardian’s report is available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/28/tibet-china-security-crackdown

(8) A full list of protests in Tibet this year, and map showing locations, is available at: http://www.tibetnetwork.org/protests-2009

(9) Details of the protest at Kirti monastery is available at: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/2729. Details of protests at Sey and Lutsang monasteries are available at: http://www.tibetnetwork.org/protests-2009

(10)Free Tibet’s report on the protests at Lithang is available at: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/170209

(11)Free Tibet’s report on the monk who set himself alight is available at: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/2729

Matt Whitticase, External Communications: t: +44 (0)20 7324 4605 (o) / +44(0)7515 788456 or email: matt@freetibet.org

Stephanie Brigden, Director: t: +44 (0)20 7324 4605 (o) / +44 (0)7530 528264