Following the January 19 death in police custody of a teenage Tibetan monk, Chinese authorities have commenced an operation to “clean up” Tibetan homes in the grassland town of Dza Wonpo, Sichuan province. Tenzin Nyima died from injuries he received while being detained after participating in a peaceful protest with three other monks. Now, it seems, officials are looking to clamp down on any further information getting out.
The Snow Wolf Commandos, a unit of the People’s Armed Police responsible for counterterrorism operations, arrived in Wonpo on March 5, ostensibly to visit a home for older people and clean up the residents’ rooms.
But video seen by Human Rights Watch also shows dozens of police and commandos parading through the town of about 3,000 residents, almost all Tibetans, carrying a large red flag and shouting battle-cries.
A local source says the commandos searched houses, including the home for older people, confiscated photos of the Dalai Lama, and put up portraits of China’s leaders on the walls. Authorities detained several Tibetan residents who had posted notes on social media expressing concern about Tenzin Nyima’s death. Their identities and whereabouts are unknown. Local residents have also been required to download an app to their phones, giving officials access to the user’s data.
This “clean-up” operation took place one day after the county’s top official, Communist Party Secretary Yuan Mingguang, visited Wonpo to inspect “recent key tasks” in the town. Yang had given “in-depth guidance” to monks at the local monastery and told the town’s police to “strengthen key tasks to ensure social stability in the near future.”
Since then, officials have announced that anyone possessing or displaying images of the Dalai Lama would be liable to criminal prosecution and would have to repay in full any assistance or funds received from the government. At a public meeting on March 17, officials required attendees to sign a five-point document undertaking not to keep or distribute pictures of the Dalai Lama and agreeing to “follow the Party and oppose any illegal activity.”
Tibetans who distribute unofficial news about their situation risk severe punishment, especially if that information is sent outside the country. Apart from photos of police helping older citizens, future news from Wonpo is likely to be scarce.