BEIJING – China has 21,000 officials in the Tibet region acting as spies, controlling the population to deter protests and ensuring that Tibetans support the Communist Party, not the Dalai Lama, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.
The Chinese government decided in 2011 to create surveillance teams of four or more people in each of the 5,000 villages in Tibet, in an unprecedented campaign to prevent protests like those which took place in 2008.
The measure was to be completed in 2014 and the teams were to have been relocated, but HRW warns that today the teams continue spying and that there are signs indicating the teams plan to remain in these locations permanently.
Since they arrived in Tibet, the spy teams have carried out “intrusive surveillance” in the villages, through questioning people about their religious or political beliefs and even subjecting them to political indoctrination.
They have also set up groups to control the attitudes of villagers or to gather information which can lead to arrest, detention or other “punishment,” HRW said in a statement.
The teams have been pushing Tibetans to express their support for the ruling Communist Party and publicly denounce the Dalai Lama, HRW claims.
“The decision to extend this control program indefinitely in Tibet is nothing but a continuous violation of human rights. The new normal for Tibetans is the constant surveillance,” said the director of HRW China, Sophie Richardson.
Speaking to EFE, representatives of the Chinese government in Tibet refused to acknowledge the program existed.
The government initially said the aim of the teams was “the improvement of services and conditions” in small towns, but according to the Communist Party, his main task was “to make every village strong in the fight against separatism,” referring to supporters of the Dalai Lama, the NGO said.
Other NGOs, such as International Campaign for Tibet, have been reporting similar practices carried out by the authorities, such as “patriotic education” sessions in Tibet and other areas inhabited by ethnic Tibetans, like Sichuan and Gansu.
It is almost impossible for foreign journalists to confirm the facts of the situation on the ground, as Beijing restricts foreign travel to the region, except for trips organized by the Chinese government.
Beijing says Tibet has for centuries been an inseparable part of its territory, while Tibetans in exile argue that the region was virtually independent for many years until it was occupied by Communist troops in 1951.