BEIJING (Reuters) - China is cracking down on Tibetan intellectuals and artists who have sought to open up discussion of the future of their region after unrest that spread across the area in Spring 2008, an overseas activist group said on Tuesday.
More than 30 men and women, including writers, bloggers, singers and environmentalists, have been detained or are imprisoned, mostly after sharing views or information about conditions in ethnic Tibetan areas, the International Campaign for Tibet said in a new report.
“Raging Storm: The crackdown on Tibetan writers and artists after Tibet’s Spring 2008 protests” details scores of arrests and long jail sentences for many intellectuals.
Protests led by Buddhist monks against Chinese rule in March 2008 gave way to deadly violence, with rioters torching shops and turning on residents, especially Han Chinese.
At least 19 people died in the 2008 unrest, which sparked waves of protests across Tibetan areas. Pro-Tibet groups overseas say more than 200 people were killed in a subsequent crackdown.
China’s Communist Party-run government says that Tibet has historically belonged to China, and it is spending generously there to develop a poor remote area. Officials accuse the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled leader, of fanning separatism.
A new generation of young, often bilingual and tech-savvy, ethnic Tibetans have been exploring their ethnic identity in the wake of the 2008 protests, the report says.
“These (writings) have been published in blogs, articles in one-off or unauthorized literary magazines, in books published and distributed privately, and also in the lyrics of songs sung in public places, uploaded onto Youtube or as cellphone ringtones,” the report said.
Their efforts, which challenge the official account of the events of 2008 as a conspiracy mounted by outside forces, have prompted the most wide-ranging suppression of Tibetan artists and intellectuals since the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976, it said.
“For the first time since the Cultural Revolution, singers, artists and writers have been the target of a drive against Tibetan culture in which almost any expression of Tibetan identity not validated by the state can be branded ‘splittist’.”
Lhasa, the regional capital of Tibet, is introducing rules to restrict access to printing and photocopying services, state media reported, in what officials said was an effort to stop “illegal activities.”
Under the rules, operators of printing and copying businesses in Lhasa must be cleared by the police, and must collect the names, addresses and identity card numbers of anyone using their services, said a report in the Lhasa Evening News last week.
Among the Tibetans under pressure is civil servant, essayist and editor Shogdung, who before 2008 had been considered a radical critic of Tibetan traditions and close to the Chinese state after he authored an article denouncing Buddhism.
However his latest book, “The line between Sky and Earth,” is an exploration of the 2008 protests and their impact on Tibetan identity, and argues for the right to civil disobedience.
It includes a section apologizing for earlier views and a discussion of the pressures and discriminations Tibetans face.
“They have made everyone, be they close or distant, powerless, helpless and desperate,” the report quotes it saying.
He was detained on April 23 this year, and his whereabouts and welfare have been unknown since.
Two Tibetans who worked for Western NGOs received sentences of 14 years and life, apparently for attempting to pass on information about the situation in Tibet, the report said.
Singer Tashi Dhondup, who performed songs with lyrics mourning the dead and ongoing repression, including one with the title ‘Torture Without Trace’ was also detained in December and sentenced to 15 months of “re-education through labor.”
The Qinghai provincial government’s media department declined comment on Shogdung, Tashi Dhondup and other Tibetans detained there. The Tibetan government could not be reached for comment.
Editing by Alex Richardson