(New York) – Chinese authorities should refrain from aggressive displays of military force and other intimidation in Tibetan areas around the March 10 anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should use the anniversary to encourage rather than prevent travel to the region and address pressing human rights concerns.

A military parade in Lhasa on March 3, 2017, involving 5,000 troops and 1,000 vehicles – considerably larger than the previous year – appeared intended to discourage public protests or expressions of dissent, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) has been closed to travel by foreigners for most of February and all of March, and the entire region has been placed on a major security alert.

“Chinese authorities are once again shutting off travel and holding military parades to bully the Tibetan population into silence,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Progress on human rights is only going to happen if the Chinese government replaces its intimidation tactics with a more open approach to information, expression, and peaceful dissent.”

Troops with guns and shields at the March 3 military parade, accompanied by military and anti-riot vehicles, were called on “to more thoroughly carry out the calls by the Central [Communist] Party Committee and the regional Party and the government” and “to once again intimidate any and all hostile splittist saboteurs.” The soldiers took a pledge that they would fight for “outright victory” through “perfect devotion to the Party, keeping minds fixed on duty, and daring to fight to win.” Chinese authorities regularly conflate peaceful activism with “splittism,” or separatism.

On February 20, the chief of security in the TAR, Ding Yexian, listed special security measures to be taken during the coming month to “maintain stability” – meaning the prevention of any unrest or expression of dissent. These measures include requiring all local security and party offices to identify and “manage” individuals classified as “focus personnel … so that not a single individual [is overlooked] and no incident arises.” The phrase refers to any individuals belonging to categories associated with potential dissent – such as unaffiliated monks and nuns, former political prisoners, and returnees from India, where the Tibetan government in exile is based and where some Tibetans travel for religious gatherings – and usually indicates that such people will be preemptively detained.

Ding, describing “the anti-terror situation” in Tibet as “ arduous and onerous,” called for “strict vigilance against the movement of suspect persons through confirmed checks and stringent interrogation,” and “strict one-by-one checks and questioning of all persons, vehicles and materials entering Tibet” during the coming high-security period.

In the last two weeks, senior TAR leaders have visited monasteries that have seen protests in the past to call for control and patriotism. In addition, party cadres stationed in each village, monastery, Communist Party organization, community group, and household-based team in the TAR have been ordered “to strengthen vigilance of public meeting places,” “to understand the social situation and mass sentiments more deeply,” and “to know the big picture from observing tiny details” by using “advance control, micro control, swift control, and effective control.” These instructions likely refer to intensive surveillance and monitoring of the Tibetan population throughout the region. To ensure that these cadres are diligent, “oversight guidance teams” have been formed to check on compliance with these demands by officials at all levels.

Human Rights Watch urged Chinese authorities to defuse rather than intensify tension in the region by publicly addressing recent serious human rights violations against Tibetans, including:

  • The eviction of at least 2,000 monks and nuns from Larung Gar, once the world’s largest Buddhist scholastic community, without giving the community the opportunity to comply with the health and safety standards ostensibly justifying its partial closure.
  • The prosecution of language activist and petitioner Tashi Wangchuk on charges of “inciting separatism” after he talked to foreign journalists about the government’s failure to provide Tibetan-language teaching as required by the constitution.
  • The failure to address the health concerns raised by the family of prominent Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who died in custody in July 2015 while serving a life sentence on evidence widely regarded as fabricated.
  • The near total denial of passports and permission to travel abroad to ordinary residents of the TAR since 2012.
  • The sentencing of monk Thardoe Gyaltsen from Drongna monastery in Driru county, TAR, to 18 years in prison in December 2013 for possessing images of the Dalai Lama and recordings of his speeches and Buddhist teachings.

There are also longstanding issues for which Chinese authorities have taken no steps, including accounting for the status and well-being of the person widely recognized as the 11thPanchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, whose whereabouts have been unknown since he was detained at age 6 in 1995; producing evidence for the convictions of health worker Wangdu, given a life sentence, and doctor Yeshe Choedron, who received 15 years, for allegedly copying unauthorized CDs and “passing information” in 2008; and numerous other cases of arbitrary detentions, convictions, and prison sentences of Tibetans for alleged political offenses.

“Beijing’s aim to squelch all criticism and dissent in Tibet is counterproductive,” Richardson said. “It increases repression, fuels discontent, defies international standards, and is no justification for the authorities’ claims of impunity for their actions.”