A Tibetan man detained by Chinese authorities in March has vanished in custody, with no word on his present whereabouts or charges made against him given to his family, a Tibetan advocacy group said on Thursday.
Wangchuk, 45, was taken into custody on or around March 8 in Shigatse (in Chinese, Xigaze) prefecture after returning from a business trip to the regional capital Lhasa, the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said.
Wangchuk may have been detained for sharing politically sensitive material, including books by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, on the popular Chinese social media platform WeChat, TCHRD said.
“He had received copies of these books from his friends living outside Tibet,” the rights group said.
News of detentions of Tibetans or of Tibetan protests against Chinese rule is frequently delayed in reaching outside contacts owing to strict communications clampdowns imposed by Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas.
Relatives and friends have meanwhile received no word of Wangchuk’s whereabouts or present condition, and family members have been subjected to travel restrictions and loss of state welfare payments and other benefits, the rights group said.
"Family members are restricted from traveling outside the county without written permission from the township government office. Increased surveillance from local authorities has disrupted the lives of family members,” TCHRD said.
Speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service, TCHRD researcher Pema Gyal said that Wangchuk’s case shows how Chinese authorities in Tibet impose strict controls on social media use and restrict the Tibetan people’s rights to openly access information and freely express themselves.
“The Chinese government’s constant scrutiny has made it very difficult for Tibetan people to live in peace,” Gyal said. “They have also announced rewards of 20,000 Chinese yuan for informants who report on [prohibited] activity.”
“This eventually provokes clashes and disrupts the unity of the Tibetan people.”
Rewards for informants
Chinese authorities in Tibet now offer large cash rewards for information leading to the arrests of social-media users deemed disloyal to China, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Behaviors specified as illegal include online activities aimed at “attempting to overthrow [China’s] socialist system,” “advocating extremism,” “destabilizing national security,” and “defaming the People’s Republic of China,” according to a notice issued on Feb. 28 by three government departments of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.
Also banned are online expressions of support for the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Policy, which calls for greater autonomy for Tibet while acknowledging Beijing’s sovereignty over Tibetan areas now part of China.
Regarded by Chinese leaders as a dangerous separatist, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese rule, and the sharing of the Dalai Lama’s photo or teachings or public celebrations of his birthday have been harshly punished in the past.
Authorities in Tibetan areas of China frequently monitor online discussions and search mobile phones for what they consider politically sensitive content, and foreign news broadcasts are heavily restricted.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.