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Chinese authorities detain two Tibetan monks for sharing ‘illegal’ contents on social media

Woechung Gyatso                                      Source: Anonymous WeChat user

This week on Monday, Chinese authorities detained two monks from Tsang Monastery in Ba Dzong or Gepasumdo (Ch: Tongde) County in Tsolho (Ch: Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province for posting sensitive pictures and articles on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat.

The County Public Security Bureau officers arbitrarily arrested Woechung Gyatso and another unidentified monk on 16 April from Tsang Dhondup Rabten Ling Monastery. Woechung Gyatso is still being held at an unknown detention center, while the other monk is believed to have been released after severe interrogation. Woechung Gyatso is a native of Dechen village in Yugan (Ch: Henan) Mongolian Autonomous County, Malho (Ch: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province.

Both monks were detained following a workshop on cybersecurity organised by Chinese authorities at the monastery. The workshop was held in March under the guise of ‘legal education’ program during which all monks were given instructions on the newly implemented Cybersecurity Law and warned of severe consequences in case of violations. An investigation launched alongside the workshop resulted in several monks including Woechung Gyatso writing forced confession letters against posting and sharing illegal contents online. A photo of Woechung Gyatso attending the workshop was made available by a WeChat user to TCHRD .

Sources told TCHRD that Woechung Gyatso was likely detained for posting on We Chat pictures and articles deemed illegal under Chinese laws particularly the Cybersecurity Law that came into effect in June 2017. Chinese authorities have also issued local directives on internet censorship in other Tibetan areas.

The Cybersecurity law violates individual’s right to freedom of expression, opinion and information. Using vague and overbroad charges such as ‘leaking state secrets’ and ‘inciting separatism’, Tibetans are subjected to arbitrary arrests, detention and torture for exercising their right to freedom of expression on the internet.

During the 2008 uprising in Tibet, over 500 monks from Tsang Monastery hoisted a Tibetan national flag on the monastery roof. They carried out a peaceful demonstration where they carried photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Last April, a monk named Choktrin Gyatso was released after 10 years from prison. Choktrin Gyatso along with two of his colleagues had been imprisoned for participating in the March 2008 demonstration at Tsang Monastery.

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