Thousands of Tibetans are being subjected to China’s social media purge to remove so-called illegal contents from their homes and cell phones in Wonpo (Ch: Wenbo) and Sershul (Ch: Shiqu) counties in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, in the Tibetan province of Kham.
Recently, on an unknown date, the last of the three Tibetans among the 117 held for more than a month in extrajudicial facilities were released. They had been detained in late August. All detainees, now released, had been subjected to poor and inadequate diet and clothing, daily interrogations, political education sessions, and military drills. Some who suffered poor health were denied permission to seek medical treatment in bigger hospitals.
As the purge enters its second month, personal cell phones of local Tibetans continue to be seized by the authorities and thoroughly searched for days. Tibetans are called for interrogations, forced to attend political education sessions that teach them to feel gratitude for the Party and the nation, and oppose the followers of “the Dalai clique”.
Parents are forced to sign letters promising not to allow their children to join the monastery before they turn 18 years of age. All local community groups including those formed to protect Tibetan language and counter adult illiteracy are ordered closed with immediate effect.
Recently, local Chinese authorities removed the phrase “Valiant Wonpo” carved on a boulder near the Dzachu (Mekong River) bridge in Wonpo after some local Chinese officials disapproved of its meaning. The carving had been done with permission from higher authorities, who used the other side of the boulder to promote the government’s ‘poverty alleviation’ slogans.
Tibetan netizens have now begun sharing widely photos of the boulder before the phrase was removed, making it a common symbol of resistance and resilience that have defined the inhabitants of the Dzachuka region.
Purging Dalai Lama’s photos
The purge began in late August resulting in the arbitrary detention of 60 Tibetans most of whom were found in possession of the photos of Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama either in their homes or phones. Around same time, 53 more Tibetans were detained from the same region raising concerns of a widespread crackdown.
Among the 121 known Tibetan detainees, both lay and monks, were some key members of the Wonpo Language Protection and Welfare Association. Formerly an environmental protection advocacy group, the association has evolved to work on reducing illiteracy and imparting Tibetan language classes for students during school breaks.
The entire Wonpo County and Denma Township in Sershul County are affected by the campaign to purge all contents involving the Dalai Lama, human rights, and Tibetan independence. Local Tibetans have reported a marked increase in all-round internet surveillance and censorship in recent weeks.
Tibetans in exile find it impossible to contact families and relatives in Tibet for fear of arrest and imprisonment. “A friend of mine [in Wonpo] recently shared his fears that he might be under the radar of the state censors. Since then, I stopped contacting him. This is not an isolated incident. There are too many of them. I heard that social media groups are more closely monitored,” a Tibetan living in exile told TCHRD.
Dzachuka area has a history of putting up strong resistance during the Chinese occupation in the 1950s. More recently, some monks from Wonpo Monastery played a key role in the March 2008 Lhasa protests that spread across the Tibetan plateau.
In February 2012, young Tibetan monks from Wonpo Monastery hoisted the Tibetan flag in place of the Chinese flag at the local government school.
In early November 2019, seven monastic and lay Tibetans scattered leaflets hailing the Dalai Lama and calling for freedom and human rights for the Tibetans in front of the local government building. Two young men rose in solidarity two weeks later in a similar fashion.
In January 2021, when 19-year-old Wonpo monk Tenzin Nyima, one of the monk protestors, died of torture, local Tibetans openly expressed solidarity despite the risk of reprisals.