CSW is concerned by reports that an estimated 117 Tibetans remain in detention after a spate of arrests by Chinese authorities in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a figure confirmed by the non-profit organisation Tibet Watch.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), the crackdown by authorities focused on language rights and possession of banned images of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. RFA reported on the detention of over one hundred Tibetans in Kardze prefecture since August, adding that they have reportedly been denied proper food, clothing, and medical care, leaving many in poor health.
Tibet Watch first reported the mass arrest of approximately 50 people, including 19 monks, by military personnel in Sershul (Shiqu) County, Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) on 22 August. According to the report, the individuals were arrested and detained on suspicion of keeping photos of the Dalai Lama on their mobile phones, posting them online, and placing them on altars in their homes and in the local monastery.
A second report issued on 1 September recorded that a further 53 Tibetans had been arrested between 25 and 30 August as part of the crackdown. The later arrests also targeted residents under suspicion of keeping images of the Dalai Lama and keeping in contact with Tibetans in exile. A subsequent report detailed eight more arrests on 3 September on the same grounds.
It its most recent report, Tibet Watch confirmed that around 117 Tibetans remain in detention following the arrests. At least one person has been denied medical treatment. The detainees are being forced to undergo political re-education and there are reports of torture, with Tibet Watch describing the village where this is taking place as being under military lockdown.
The crackdown follows a short visit to Tibet by Chinese leader Xi Jinping from 21 July, his first such visit to the area in his current role. In a speech at the conference on ethnic affairs in August, Xi stressed the need to eliminate “ethnic separatism and religious extremism” and prevent “dangers” in the ethnic affairs. Some observers fear that the arrests reported so far may indicate the beginning of wider crackdown.
In 2020 CSW reported on freedom of religion or belief violations against Tibetan Buddhists, including intrusive military surveillance of monasteries and religious occasions such as important prayer days, which are marked by the presence of armed police. In addition, any activity in association or connection with the Dalai Lama is severely repressed by the authorities.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “We are deeply concerned by the reports of the arrest of over one hundred people in Tibet, many of them on suspicion of keeping photos of the Dalai Lama. Tibetans’ right to freedom of religion or belief has long been supressed by the Chinese authorities, as have many of their other civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. We call on the Chinese government to respect and protect the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people, and to release without delay all those detained in connection with the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of religion or belief.”