29 Tibetan tour guides dismissed

Some 29 Tibetan tour guides from Shigatse Prefecture Tourist Travel Agency in Lhasa were reportedly dismissed from their jobs on 1 July 2000 following a major investigation to identify and expel guides who are exile-educated Tibet returnees.

TAR Tour Guide Discipline Management Department, established June this year, conducted an extensive investigation into 18 branch Tourist Agencies in Lhasa that comes under China International Tourist Service (CITS).

According to Sonam Wangdu, one of the 29 expelled Tibetan guides who reached Nepal on 27 July 2000, “An Inspection Committee dispatched by the newly set up Guide Discipline Management Department, conducted strict investigation in various tours and travel agencies in Lhasa City functioning under TAR International Tourist Service. Inquiries are made regarding the guides’ personal background, particularly names of educational institutions where we have studied and any history of political activism. We were further interrogated concerning our knowledge of guide regulation and made to produce documents to prove our credentials. These led to the dismissal of 29 tourist guides educated in India just five days before the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration this year. However, three Tibetan graduates from Chinese universities were not stripped off their tour guide jobs.”

Wangdu returned to Tibet in 1997 after four years of schooling in a school administered by the exile Tibetan government. In Tibet, he worked in Shigatse Prefecture Tourist Travel Agency in Lhasa, as a tour guide for three years from August 1997 till his expulsion last month. According to Wangdu, his office employed a total of 75 staff with 43 office personnel and 32 tourist guides. The TAR  authorities with the Inspection Team members brought out a 13-Point Regulation for Tourist Guide that restricts the guides from explaining the real condition of Tibet and Tibetans to foreign tourists, thereby violating their individual freedom of expression.

The 13-point guide regulation forbids discussion with tourist about Tibet’s cause, political prisoners and prisons, deforestation, mining and taking photographs of chapels, beggars and poor people in Tibet. Both tourists and guides are prohibited from displaying and distribution of Dalai Lama photographs among the local Tibetans. Guides are restricted from taking tourist into prohibited areas. No guides are allowed to show the direction of army encampments or discuss about the strength of military force. Impoverished state of Tibetans and the mass population transfer of Chinese into Tibet are not to be discussed with the foreigners.

Similar cases were reported in 1997 when 69 tour guides were sacked and refused renewal of guide permits. That came on the heels of scrutiny stepped up against Tibetans returning from trips to India, as the authorities were concerned over “splittist” influences from foreign countries in general and India in particular. At the sixth “Tibet Autonomous Region People=92s Congress” in June 1994, it was announced that “acts of some tour guides colluding with foreign tourist to harm state security” should be put to an end.

In May 2000, more than a hundred Chinese tour guides were reportedly recruited threatening employment opportunities of Tibetan tour guides. Tibetan guides are required to pass a political examination and produce a middle school certificate either from a Chinese or Tibetan school.

Chinese fears of “splittist forces” and “stability risks” are exemplified amply in the dismissal of Tibetan tour guides from India. Tibetans from India are at greater risk of arrest and imprisonment for they are perpetually viewed with suspicion for political involvement. A recent report indicates that the Chinese authorities restrict Tibetans from keeping contacts with their relatives and friends in exile community.

Shigatse Prefecture Tourist Travel Agency in Lhasa from where the 29 expulsion took place is one of the 18 Branch Tourist Agencies in Lhasa. Information as to any expulsion of Tibetan guides from 17 other Branch Tourist Agencies in Lhasa is unavailable as yet.

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