Inside Tibet: Tightened controls before Kalachakra; new Chinese Interpol President

  • Tightened controls and fear as Dalai Lama teaching in India approaches: passports confiscated, Tibetans on pilgrimage warned
  • Chinese security official prominent in ‘counter-terror’ drive in Tibet is appointed Interpol President
Tightened restrictions before Dalai Lama teaching

Meng Hongwei

Meng Hongwei, Chinese security official prominent in ‘counter-terror’ drive in Tibet, is appointed Interpol President.

The Chinese authorities have tightened controls on Tibetans, in some areas going from house to house to confiscate people’s passports, in the buildup to a major religious ceremony to be held by the Dalai Lama in the pilgrimage town of Bodh Gaya, India.

Some Tibetans who have already arrived in Nepal and India for pilgrimage and for attending the religious ceremony in Bodh Gaya have already been ordered to return, and their families pressured by the authorities. A Tibetan who spoke to several monks on pilgrimage in India from Tibet said that they were “very scared and anxious” after their families had received a warning from the authorities.

In the last few weeks, Government officials have confiscated passports in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Gansu, and according to some sources, also in Sichuan and the Tibet Autonomous Region. The restrictions are resonant of sweeping measures imposed during and after the 2012 Kalachakra taught by the Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya, when hundreds of Tibetans returning to Tibet were detained and imprisoned for political ‘re-education’, with some disappearing for many months without families knowing where they were.[1]

It is already extremely difficult for Tibetans to obtain passports, with very few Tibetans in the TAR and other areas being issued passports and others having theirs recalled – in contrast, more and more Chinese are travelling both abroad and freely in Tibet – but the new restrictions appear to be linked to preventing Tibetans from attending the upcoming Kalachakra ceremony in India. In Qinghai, according to the same sources, the government requires applicants for a Chinese passport to provide guarantees that they would not travel to India, where the Dalai Lama resides.

According to information received by ICT, passports have been restricted for Tibetans in Qinghai since September, and in Tibetan areas of Gansu since the middle of October. Tibetans in Sichuan and the TAR are also facing difficulties, with one Tibetan describing families in Qinghai as feeling “trapped and in despair” because they feared being unable to travel to pilgrimage sites in India and the teachings in Bodh Gaya. For older generation Tibetans, it is particularly distressing; many elder Tibetans have sought to see the Dalai Lama at least once in their lifetimes and teachings in exile represent an opportunity to do so.

A Tibetan in exile said: “Prefectural to county-level authorities in Qinghai and other areas are thoroughly checking the number of Tibetans who have a Chinese passport. Party cadres [often those based at village level] are confiscating passports of Tibetans who have them and warned those who are not at home and who have passports that they have to return by December 30, in order for new seals to be affixed. If not they are told that benefits such as ‘poverty alleviation’ funding and pensions will be cut. We can see clearly from the timing that this is targeted at preventing Tibetans from attending the Kalachakra, which begins on January 3 [2017].”

Tibetans on pilgrimage detained in Nepal

In a connected development, a group of 41 Tibetans who arrived in Nepal from eastern Tibet were detained this week and released yesterday (November 16). The group of Tibetans, including nuns and monks, was on pilgrimage from Tibet to sacred Buddhist sites in Nepal and India, most likely including Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha is believed to have been enlightened. The Dalai Lama will confer a Kalachakra (‘Wheel of Time’) initiation there from January 3-14 (2017).[2]

Consistent with the tightening of controls on passports and Tibetan movements in Tibet, the Chinese authorities are likely to have stepped up pressure on the Nepalese authorities to comply in targeting Tibetans in transit through Nepal, including those with legitimate Chinese passports.

The Chinese official Global Times issued a statement on the arrests of the Tibetans, who were stopped on Monday (November 14) southwest of Kathmandu while travelling by bus to India. The article, which appeared to be intended to convey a warning to other Tibetans who may have been intending to travel to Nepal or India, cited a Nepalese immigration official saying that the Tibetans would be “handed over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees” if they were found to be “genuine refugees”, or “Otherwise they may be deported back to the country they came from.” (Global Times, November 17, 2016).[3] The Global Times also noted that there were tougher border controls between China and Nepal than before, although it attributed the decline in Tibetan refugees via Nepal since 2008 to increasing prosperity in Tibet.

In recent years the Chinese authorities have imposed sweeping new measures in order to prevent Tibetans travelling to teachings by the Dalai Lama outside Tibet, and to punish those who do. For the first time at a major Buddhist teaching by the Dalai Lama in 2014, the Kalachakra in Ladakh, there were more Chinese Buddhists present than Tibetans from inside Tibet. The restrictions threaten the survival of Tibetan Buddhist teachings in Tibet by making it nearly impossible for monks and nuns who wish to travel outside the PRC to receive instruction from teachers who are in exile, and difficult for exiled teachers to get permission to travel within Tibet to give teachings.

From 2012, following the imposition of tough new measures restricting travel in Tibetan areas since the 2008 protests, Tibetans began to face tightening restrictions on the issuance of passports, limiting their travel outside Tibet – for instance to teachings of the Dalai Lama, or to study abroad. This is in contrast to the increasing number of Chinese citizens being granted a passport, and the dramatic increase in domestic tourism to Tibet, with Tibet being branded as a spiritual, romantic destination.

An earlier ICT report[4] detailed how the Chinese authorities used the opportunity of a PRC-wide transition to electronic passports in 2012, when Chinese nationals were required to submit outdated passports for replacement, to single out both Tibetans and Uighurs for more severe restrictions and punitive measures. Regulations issued in 2012 in the Tibet Autonomous Region required all Tibetans in the Tibetan region to surrender their old passports, even when their validity had not expired, ostensibly to be replaced by the electronic version. But in numerous cases, the passports were not replaced.

The issue has been hotly developed on social media sites in the PRC, with many netizens challenging the discriminatory policies against Tibetans. One posting on the website of the Qinghai Provincial Bureau of Petitions challenged officials to answer the question of “whether it is the rules of the provincial government or the rules of the Public Security Bureau that Qinghai’s minority nationalities cannot apply for a passport, [given that] the Passport Law provides that applying for a passport is the right of every citizen under the Chapter 1, Article 4 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China.” The official response stated: “Regarding the problem of the masses’ hope that our province will open up the passport-on-demand policy for ordinary passports as soon as possible, we shall continue to work in accordance with the requirements of the provincial committee, provincial government and the Public Security Bureau and coordinate with the corresponding work units to actively promote this work.” The official answer also said that the netizen’s application for a passport had been rejected “following an investigation by the Entry and Exit Administration of the Public Security Bureau”.

A full translation of the correspondence, from August 18 (2016) at http://www.qh.gov.cn/zmhd/system/2016/08/18/010228505.shtml is posted as a note at the end of this report.[5]

Chinese security official prominent in ‘counter-terror’ drive in Tibet is appointed Interpol President

A Chinese security official who has been prominent in the counter-terror drive in Tibet and Xinjiang has been appointed as President of Interpol, raising concerns for intensified Chinese involvement in seeking to pursue and apprehend peaceful dissidents outside the PRC.

Meng Hongwei, Vice Minister for Public Security and China’s armed police since 2004 and the first Chinese to hold the post, was appointed as President of the world’s largest police organisation, the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO or INTERPOL)[6], last week.[7]

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “Meng Hongwei has led a police force of a country where the rule of law is fundamentally ignored and where law enforcement has resulted in violent crackdowns in Tibet and Xinjiang in order to ensure the dominance of the Communist Party. His appointment coincides with the introduction of new counter-terror legislation in the PRC that is heightening tensions and increasing the risk of violence by shutting down other means of recourse. His appointment at Interpol raises serious questions for an organisation whose stated commitment is not only to protect, but also to ‘actively promote the protection of human rights’.”

Rights organisations including ICT have highlighted the dangers of articles in China’s new counter-terror law that appear to authorise the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and armed police to carry out operations in other countries, and that allow the transfer of people back to the PRC against their will. This is in the context of a history at Interpol of allowing its international database to be used by authoritarian governments to pursue critics; research by organisations including Fair Trials and Human Rights Watch has shown repeatedly that countries including China use Red Notices as political tools to persecute refugees, journalists, and activists beyond their own borders.

Meng Hongwei has been directly involved in new counter-terror legislation[8] and the dramatic expansion of the powers of military and police in Tibet and Xinjiang – backed by grass roots propaganda work and electronic surveillance. This comes under the general rubric of ‘stability work’, which is political language for the elimination of dissent and enforcement of compliance to Chinese Communist Party policies. Under the leadership of the Chinese Party Secretary and President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government is enforcing a comprehensive legal framework which represents an attempt to legitimize through legislation existing repressive measures designed to intensify control by the CCP and suppress dissent.

In a speech in 2014, Meng Hongwei stressed the importance of troops adhering to the “political first, the first party, the ideological work first”. He later called upon border troops to understand that “political work is the essence of the Party’s leadership.”[9]

ICT has tracked various references to Meng Hongwei’s involvement in border security in Tibetan areas over the last few years including a tour to the border areas with Nepal in 2011 accompanied by the then Politburo security chief Zhou Yongkang, who is now serving life in prison for corruption. This was part of efforts by China to establish an entrenched and more systematic approach to constraining Tibetans in Nepal as part of its Tibet ‘stability’ strategy; the Chinese government’s current engagement with Nepal renders Tibetans increasingly vulnerable, both the few who seek to escape into exile, and the long-staying community.[10] Greater cooperation between Chinese and Nepalese security forces, particularly since an agreement made in 2010,[11] regarding intelligence sharing and border enforcement increases the threat of forced repatriation for Tibetans and raises concerns over Nepal’s commitment to ensure the safety of Tibetans transiting through Nepal.

The visit by Meng Hongwei and Zhou Yongkang to Nepal a year after this agreement was signed was intended to strengthen bilateral cooperation still further, according to Chinese state media.[12]

Meng Hongwei also paid tribute to troops on Tibet’s border at a ceremony last year to mark efforts of troops deployed in earthquake relief.[13] Meng Hongwei exhorted troops to: “Safeguard national unity, strengthen ethnic unity and focus on border security” in line with the policies set by the Sixth Tibet Work Forum, the first major policy meeting on Tibet to be presided over by Party leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. The meeting, in August 2015, specifically blamed the Dalai Lama for ‘anti-separatist’ activities, and underlined the importance of the Tibet issue to the Beijing leadership.[14]

In Tibet, despite the absence of any violent insurgency, new counter-terror measures that came into effect on January 1 (2016) have resulted in an expansion of militarization across the plateau. By conflating the expression of distinct religious and ethnic identities with ‘separatism’, and blurring distinctions between violent acts and peaceful dissent, the Chinese government is using counter-terrorism as a justification to crack down on even mild expressions of religious identity and culture in Tibet and Xinjiang.

In the same week as Meng Hongwei’s appointment as President, the head of Interpol’s secretariat Jurgen Stock announced reforms in order to maintain confidence in Interpol due to abuses presided over by the organisation – which have included the return of Uyghurs to face persecution in the PRC.[15] Details of the proposed reforms are not yet clear. Jago Russell, Chief executive, Fair Trials, told The Guardian: “Interpol should be judged by whether it continues to allow its systems to be used as a tool of persecution. If it fails to rise to this challenge, it will not only remain complicit in human rights abuse; but will also fail to meet the ‘highest legal standards’ that its outgoing president last week recognised as crucial to its “credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness”. (The Guardian, November 14, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/14/interpol-appointment-highlights-abuses).


Footnotes:
[1] Around 7-8,000 Tibetans from inside Tibet attended a major religious ceremony, the Kalachakra, in Bodh Gaya, India in December-January 2012. As the place where the Buddha was enlightened, Bodh Gaya is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and the ceremony was presided over by the Dalai Lama. Tibetans reported high levels of fear and tension among Tibetans attending from Tibet, linked to the presence of Chinese informers and officials among pilgrims at the ceremony. Hundreds of Tibetans returning from the Kalachakra were detained either at the border or when they returned to Lhasa or their home areas. Tibetans detained were held in detention centers, including one created in a school and one in an army camp. Some detention centers are close to the airport, and Tibetans who have Chinese passports and who returned from India by plane may have been taken there as soon as they arrived. Many couples and families have been separated, with some elderly people denied medication. ICT report, February 12, 2012, https://www.savetibet.org/lockdown-in-lhasa-at-tibetan-new-year-unprecedented-detentions-of-hundreds-of-tibetans-after-dalai-lama-teaching-in-exile/

[2] Details at http://www.dalailama.com/teachings/schedule

[3] Citing Basudev Ghimire, director at the Immigration Department in Kathmandu, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1018411.shtml

[4] ‘A policy alienating Tibetans: The denial of passports to Tibetans as China tightens control’; https://www.savetibet.org/policy-alienating-tibetans-denial-passports-tibetans-china-intensifies-control/

[5] The problem of Qinghai’s minority nationalities passport applications
2016-08-18 16:04

Source: Provincial Bureau of Petitions. Publication date: August 18, 2016. Editor: Ma Yanyan.

Petition content:
Hello, dear provincial governor! Whether it is the rules of the provincial government or the rules of the Public Security Bureau that Qinghai’s minority nationalities cannot apply for a passport, the Passport Law provides that applying for a passport is the right of every citizen under the Chapter 1, Article 4 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China: “All nationalities in the People’s Republic of China are equal. The State protects the lawful rights and interests of the minority nationalities and upholds and develops a relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all of China’s nationalities. Discrimination against and oppression of any nationality are prohibited; any act which undermines the unity of the nationalities or instigates division is prohibited. The State assists areas inhabited by minority nationalities in accelerating their economic and cultural development according to the characteristics and needs of the various minority nationalities. Regional autonomy is practised in areas where people of minority nationalities live in concentrated communities; in these areas organs of self-government are established to exercise the power of autonomy. All national autonomous areas are integral parts of the People’s Republic of China. All nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and to preserve or reform their own folkways and customs.” [The original Chinese – and indeed the translation – were copied and pasted from official public online sources.]

Application outcome:
In accordance with your correspondence received, and following an investigation by the Entry and Exit Administration of the Public Security Bureau, your application materials are not eligible [Ch.: bu fuhe tiaojian – lit: do not comply with the conditions]. Furthermore, our province’s current policies on applying for an ordinary passport and the recently issued policy for passport-on-demand for ordinary passports as well as a series of recent new measures for the people’s convenience and benefit have already been explained to you. Regarding the problem of the masses’ hope that our province will open up the passport-on-demand policy for ordinary passports as soon as possible, we shall continue to work in accordance with the requirements of the provincial committee, provincial government and the Public Security Bureau and coordinate with the corresponding work units to actively promote this work.

[6] An intergovernmental organization facilitating international police cooperation

[7] In a Tweet by Interpol on November 10 (2016), https://twitter.com/INTERPOL_HQ/status/796554907775942657

[8] ICT launched a new report this week on the impact of the counter-terror law on Tibetans and Uyghurs, https://www.savetibet.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/FIDH-ICT-Chinas-new-counter-terrorism-law-Implications-and-Dangers-for-Tibetans-and-Uyghurs-15-11-2016-FINAL.pdf (on November 15, 2016)

[9] At a Political Work Conference on Public Security Border Forces and the Expanded Party Committee Meeting, January 24-26, 2015 in Beijing. Chinese state media in Chinese: http://www.mps.gov.cn/n2254314/n2254315/n2254317/n2254335/n2254337/c4887715/content.html

[10] ICT report, ‘Dangerous Crossings’, https://www.savetibet.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Dangerous-Crossings_2011-Update.pdf

[11] In 2010, the first “Nepal-China border Security and Law Enforcement Talks” concluded with Beijing and Kathmandu agreeing to establish high-level intelligence sharing capabilities targeting “anti-China” activities and border management, in addition to a pledge from Beijing for an annual aid package to enhance Nepal’s handling of “anti-China” activities.

[12] Nepalese border police on the successful conclusion of the delegation visited the Tibet Autonomous Region 2011-09-02 Source: People Author: Zhang Zhen Hua Sheng Jun Ouyang http://www.cpd.com.cn/n2450451/n2450694/c2596748/content.html

[13] Chinese state media in Chinese: relevant section translated by ICT. http://www.chinanews.com/sh/2015/08-21/7481259.shtml

[14] ICT report, https://www.savetibet.org/tough-warnings-on-anti-separatism-from-party-leaders-at-political-anniversary-in-tibet/

[15] In her opening address to the 85th INTERPOL General Assembly in Bali, Indonesia, Mireille Ballestrazzi, President of INTERPOL, acknowledged the organisation’s responsibility to review Red Notice procedures, noting the “significant impact that using these tools has on both international police cooperation and on people’s rights and freedoms.”

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