A new Chinese law from the first of March this year (2022) places
complete ban on storing or sharing any kind of ‘religious content’ on
mobiles phones in Tibet. This is a clear admission by the Chinese rulers
of Tibet that despite all claims about ‘development’ and ‘happiness’ of
Tibetan masses, they have failed in either winning the hearts of
Tibetan people or weaning them away from the influence of Dalai
Lama who left Tibet 63 years ago..


(Author is a senior journalist, Tibetologist and Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement, New Delhi)

The enthusiasm of the Chinese government and its propaganda machine to claim proudly that Tibetan people have greatly benefited since Tibet was ‘liberated’ in 1951 is well known and understandable too. But the world media and keen observers of China find it strange that the Beijing government refuses to allow foreign journalists and independent observers to visit Tibet freely to verify and appreciate these Chinese claims. Rather, in recent years Beijing government’s sensitivity about the flow of news and information from inside Tibet to the outer world has acquired annoying dimensions. The latest campaign of Chinese administrators in Tibet is now focused on the content which Tibetan citizens store
or share on their mobile phones.

A new law, announced by the Beijing government, has come into force from first of March this year which places complete ban on storing or sharing any kind of ‘religious content’, especially related to Tibet either online or on mobiles phone. This law equally applies not only to Tibetan citizens but also Chinese citizens, organizations and even foreigners living in China. This rule makes it obligatory for religious groups in China and Tibet to obtain a license if they want to share religious content with others. Obviously, this content is bound to be subjected to strict political scrutiny before it is released.

Since most of Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongols citizens whose countries are under control of China are deeply religious by tradition and they are comfortable only in their own respective national languages, Chinese government has recently removed these languages from popular language learning apps like the Talkmate and video streaming service Bilibili. This regulation is aimed at forcing these colonized people to shift to the Chinese language even for mutual communication within their communities. In the school system in Tibet and Xinjiang too the Chinese administrators have already made Chinese Mandarin as the only and compulsory medium of education even for junior classes.

In recent months all such schools which were run by local communities in Tibet on voluntary basis to teach Tibetan language to their children during after school hours or weekends were closed down on government orders. At many places the schools were demolished and the organizers were arrested on charges of spreading ‘separatism’ and ‘anti-national’ activism.

The new law regulating the personal mobiles of Tibetan people is titled as “Measures on the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services” is jointly administered by five departments which work directly under the Chinese Communist Party. These departments are the State Internet Information Office, the State Bureau of Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Industry and Information, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of State Security.

Even before this new rules came into force, even actions like saving the photo of Dalai Lama or recordings of religious prayers on one’s mobile was considered a very serious crime which could invite jail up to seven years. In March last year the Human Rights Watch (HRW) took up the case of a 19 year old Tibetan monk Tenzin Nyima of Dza Wonpo monastery in Sichuan who had died due to Chinese police torture. To control public anger against this killing the commandos of People’s Armed Police (PAP) swooped on the village, ransacked all the houses and arrested all those people who were found with photos of Dalai Lama either in their homes or in their mobiles. In last December and January this year the Chinese authorities in the Kham region of Tibet in Sichuan province demolished two massive statues of Buddha, one was 99 feet high, and giant prayer wheels surrounding these statues.

The new rule covers a wide range of social media platforms, especially inside Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and those Tibetan regions which were scooped out of original Tibet and assimilated into adjoining Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai after China occupied Tibet in 1951. The law works more sternly on such social media platforms in which users can perform live and communicate with group audiences. Use of Tibetan language for these communications and song or dance performances has been banned to make it convenient for the security establishments and surveillance agencies to monitor such content. All popular Tibetan performers who have large followings have been already marked by the Chinese security establishment. If anyone among them makes attempts to present some aspects of traditional Tibetan culture or religion their social media accounts are deactivated and many of them have been arrested. Chinese government has appointed millions of media watchers across China, especially in colonies like Tibet, Xinjiang and South Mongolia with recent addition of Hong Kong too, who continuously listen to phone discussions and live performances and videos on the social media.

Earlier this year when a senior and popular Tibetan incarnate lama Choktrul Dawa Rinpoche passed away on Jan 30, a strict ban on sharing his pictures and news about his death on the social media was imposed. When the fellow lamas of the Rinpoche performed rituals, associated with the death of a senior monk or an enlightened scholar, the authorities confiscated mobiles of all the Lamas and devotees and deleted every photo or video of the dead Lama. In 2010 the Rinpoche was arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison on the allegation of maintaining contact with the exiled Dalai Lama in India.

Chinese surveillance over Tibetan masses has taken new dimensions since widespread Tibetan demonstration in 2008 before the Beijing Olympics became international news. Since then each Tibetan is obliged to carry a smart card which helps the security agencies to keep live tab of the movement of each person. Supported by millions of TV cameras installed in every street and public places and the use of artificial intelligence as a part of mass surveillance, the Public Security Bureau has made it nearly impossible for any Tibetan group to gather at a place and hold demonstrations. That explains why there has been a sudden spurt in self-immolations which have taken over 150 lives of young Tibetan youths, monks and nuns since 2009. Latest rules governing the use of mobile phones is a clear admission by the Chinese rulers of Tibet that despite all claims about ‘development’ and ‘happiness’ of Tibetan masses, they have failed in either winning the hearts of Tibetan people or weaning them away from Dalai Lama who left Tibet 63 years ago.

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