China’s Communist authorities have launched “a massive security clampdown in Lhasa, pouring police into the Tibetan capital and setting up checkpoints with airport-style body scanners in busy downtown areas,” Radio Free Asia reports.
“Lhasa city has been turned into a large prison,” a resident of Lhasa told RFA’s Tibetan service. “There are police everywhere in groups of 10 or more with rifles, batons, and fire extinguishers on each of them.”
She said police had set up security checkpoints for pedestrians near the popular tourist area of the Barkhor Market and the pilgrimage route around the city’s central Jokhang Temple.
“Body scanning checkpoints have been installed at different points, and Tibetans are being regularly scanned and checked,” she said, adding that body scanning gates had been set up around the Potala Palace, the former residence of Tibet‘s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
The crackdown follows reports that a Tibetan monk was beaten, tortured and imprisoned following his arrest in “an area that has become a flashpoint for a wave of protests against Chinese rule.”
Yonten Gyatso, a senior monk and human rights activist in the restive Aba county, in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, was sentenced to seven years in prison for spreading information about protests in Tibet, according to Reporters without Borders.
“In a growing wave of opposition to Beijing’s rule in Tibetan areas, 49 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009, with nearly all of the fiery protests taking place in Tibetan-populated provinces in western China,” RFA reports:
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has launched a nationwide “stability” drive in recent months, targeting activists, dissidents, and potential political flashpoints like Tibet and the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang ahead of a key leadership transition at the 18th Party Congress later this year.
Tibetans have only recently and reluctant resorted to self-immolation because of the lack of alternative channels to articulate grievances, observers suggest.
“Such extreme forms of protest come about because the Chinese government has been very thorough in cutting off other forms of protests, even moderate self-expression,” said Professor Michael Davis, a human rights expert at the University of Hong Kong. “There doesn’t seem to be a way out of this until the Chinese government changes its policy.”
Tibetan groups are turning to social media to bypass official censorship and communicate directly with Chinese citizens.
Social media “has accelerated the beginning of dialogue between ordinary Tibetans and Chinese,” said Kate Saunders, a London-based researcher for the International Campaign for Tibet. “It’s a very important initiative for the Dalai Lama.”