Dharamshala — New York-based Human Rights Watch's latest 86-page report on Tibet reveals increase in suppression by the Chinese authorities on Tibetans under their "Stability Maintenance System" campaign.
Study of 479 cases between 2013-2015 shows the deteriorating tolerance and increasing severity of the detentions, prosecution and convictions for peaceful dissent, the kinds that are allowed under the Chinese and the international law.
The policies under this campaign has granted the government a close surveillance and massive control over the Tibetan society, especially in the rural and areas previously not associated with dissent. "Our research found that many of those detained and prosecuted were local community leaders, environmental activists, and villagers involved in social and cultural activities, as well as local writers and singers." The report shows a stark increase in detentions from the rural areas for activities previously considered not so significant crimes by the Chinese government.
"Tibetan areas are the forefront of the Chinese government's country-wide crackdown on peaceful dissent," said Sophie Richardson, China director. "The authorities are treating all Tibetans as potential dissidents and are trying to extend surveillance to the entire Tibetan community."
Previously unpublished documents reveal the devastating cost paid by a local community for a single protest, the Rights Watchdog said. In April 2013, the trial and conviction of three lamas from Chamdo in the Tibet Autonomous Region for a minor charge of "harboring a criminal" led to police employing waves of collective punishment, intimidation, and repression throughout the wider community for over a year as they sought to find other suspects.
The Chinese authorities detained, beat, and threatened scores of local Tibetans, and subjected others to political indoctrination and travel restrictions in an apparent attempt to obtain information about key suspects and deter further dissent.
Of the 479 detainees, 153 were reported to have been sent for trial, convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment. The average sentence they received was 5.7 years in prison.
According to the report, "Among those who received the longest sentences were people who tried to assist victims of self-immolations, leaders of protests against mining or government construction projects, and organizers of village opposition to unpopular decisions by local officials."
In the previous three decades, the authorities rarely accused such rural Tibetans of involvement in political unrest. Human Rights Watch identified seven protests, five of them with more than a hundred participants, in which villagers demanded the release of a detained community leader. The detention of local leaders and their communities' mass support for them appears to be a new phenomenon.
Further, the report mentions "shift in the epicentre of detentions" from Sichuan province from 2008 - 2012 to Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in 3013.
The report further explains that under these policies of the campaign, the transfer of Chinese officials to villages and monasteries in the TAR with roles to implement new management, security, and propaganda operations, and the deployment of nearly 10,000 police in Tibetan villages in Qinghai gave rise to more organized surveillance over villages and towns. This in turn have led to surging protests and the subsequent harsher detentions.
The localities which have become grounds for repeated protests have been identified as the "cluster-sites" and subsequently face greater number of politicized detentions and longer period of sentencing in comparison to other areas.
The ill treatment of the detainees continues to be a serious concern as the report showed that 14 of the 479, died in the custody or shortly after the release.
"If the goal of the 'stability maintenance' campaign was to wipe out dissent among Tibetans, it has failed to do so," Richardson said, added: "The basis of real stability is for China's government to respect rights, understand and respond to local grievances, and roll back abuses by security forces across the plateau."