Chinese internet police in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) have yet again announced criminal prosecutions against individuals who use online communication tools to “split the country” and “undermine national unity”, in a notice dated 24 November 2020, which was publicly made available on 24 December this year. Listing a range of illegal online activities such as using virtual private network (VPN) and joining discussion groups, the notice said the authorities would “strike hard” against offenders “in accordance with law”.
In February 2019, a similar notice was released that criminalised online activities to “collect, produce, download, store, publish, disseminate, and publicise malicious attacks against the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government, the socialist system, the regional ethnic autonomy system, and the party and the government’s policy of managing TAR.” The 2019 notice offered rewards of up to 300,000 yuan (US $45858.93), up from 100,000 yuan (US $ 15286.31) the same authorities announced in a directive issued by the TAR Public Security Bureau in 2019.
The restrictions on online activities are not just prevalent in TAR but also in other Tibetan areas in Qinghai Province where local Chinese authorities announced imprisonment for eight years for offenders. In 2017, online censorship regulations were imposed on online users particularly group administrators and owners of public online accounts by the Machu (Ch: Maqu) County internet police in Kanlho (Ch: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province.
Notice of the Tibet Autonomous Region on not using information networks to implement activities to split the country and undermine national unity
24 November 2020
In order to further advance the Internet governance according to law and strike hard against illegal and criminal activities of using information networks to split the country and undermine national unity in accordance with the “Criminal Law”, “Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security”, “The Cybersecurity Law”, along with the “20 Prohibitions of Network Communication Activities in the TAR” and other laws and regulations, such as the Measures for the Administration of the Security Protection of Networks and International Networks. It is now prohibited to use information networks to split the country and undermine national unity in the following manner:
- It is not allowed to publish and spread information that distorts history, dilutes national consciousness, uses religious content, religious activities, etc. to attack the party and state policies, and slander the socialist system.
- It is not allowed to provide virtual private network (VPN) and technical support or help for others to visit or browse overseas websites that promote, instigate the secession of the country, or undermine national unity.
- It is not allowed to join networking groups that organize, plan, and implement secession, undermining national unity and national unity, and other illegal and criminal activities, and make, copy, review, and disseminate information that promotes, incites secession, and undermines national unity.
- It is not allowed to use instant messaging tools, social forum software, etc. to communicate with organizations or persons that endanger national security to carry out activities that split the country or undermine national unity.
- Don’t engage in supporting activities that endanger national security, such as providing funds, state secrets, and intelligence information.
- Do not accept tasks from organizations or personnel that endanger national security to carry out separatist and sabotage activities.
- Do not promote or support organizations or personnel that endanger national security in various forms.
- Do not distort facts, spread rumours, or spread false information to provoke ethnic relations and undermine ethnic unity.
- It is not allowed to distort hype, attack and defame the party and the government by creating various social conflicts or using hot and sensitive events, and inciting disturbing public order.
- No other activities required by laws and regulations to split the country or undermine national unity.
For those who commit the above illegal and criminal activities on the Internet, the criminal offender shall be held accountable in accordance with the law.
The Chinese party-state punishes any dissenting opinions or behaviour and pushes state propaganda, and thereby enacting a power structure that disadvantages Tibetans and penalizes expression of Tibetan political and cultural identity, as documented in TCHRD’s September 2020 report on surveillance and censorship in Tibet. In an effort to extend ‘internet sovereignty’ to the digital sphere, Chinese authorities have outlawed many social media platforms and search engines, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter that allowed for greater freedom of speech and information. In their place, China has practically created its own internet guarded by the “Great Firewall”, populated by China based platforms such as WeChat and Weibo. According to Chinese law, these platforms are obligated to do their part in maintaining “social stability”, which includes censoring search results to match Party lines, and reporting suspicious individuals who engage in activity such as discussing human rights, critiquing the Party, or advocating for Tibetan culture. A study of Chinese microblogging sites found that more than half of messages originating in Tibet are deleted, compared to a mere 12% in Beijing.
In order to further limit the spheres in which free speech still exists, Chinese authorities have taken action to enforce real name registration online. It is impossible for Tibetans to access the internet without leaving a searchable footprint for authorities. Any talk of politics or critique of state policy is considered for a charge of separatism; posting, possessing, or even clicking on images of the Dalai Lama is grounds for a charge of religious extremism. the eyes of the state, in any way whatsoever. To speak of such matters with outsiders is often a more extreme crime in and Tibetans are routinely discouraged from contacting the outside world.