(New York) – Chinese authorities have indefinitely extended an intensive surveillance program in villages across the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) that was due to end in 2014, Human Rights Watch said today. There are indications that the “village-based cadre teams” (zhucun gongzuodui) scheme, which is unprecedented in China, will become permanent.
In the TAR, where the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, religion and privacy are already highly restricted, the extension of this scheme signals authorities’ intention to suppress any signs of dissent or criticism among Tibetans. Since their deployment in 2011, the teams have carried out intrusive surveillance of Tibetans in villages, including questioning them about their political and religious views, subjecting thousands to political indoctrination, establishing partisan security units to monitor behavior, and collecting information that could lead to detention or other punishment. Official reports describe the teams pressuring villagers to publicly show support for the ruling Communist Party and to oppose the Dalai Lama.
“The Chinese government’s decision to extend its Tibet surveillance program indefinitely is nothing less than a continuous human rights violation,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “The new normal is one of permanent surveillance of Tibetans.”
In 2011, the central government, in an effort to prevent a recurrence of the protests that spread across the Tibetan plateau in 2008, launched an Orwellian campaign known as “Benefit the Masses.” The campaign involved sending some 21,000 Communist Party cadres from townships and urban areas to live in teams of four or more in each of the 5,000 villages in the TAR. The scheme, which cost more than 25 percent of the regional government’s revenue, was supposed to last for three years. It was unprecedented in terms of duration and relative size in China, where in the past full-time government and Party administrators have rarely if ever been stationed for extended periods below the level of the township.