Agam's Gecko
Monday, December 29, 2008
Wangdue, Tibetan patriot
Wangdue (R) is seen in this undated photo providing HIV / AIDS awareness materials to the people of Lhasa. He has been sentenced to life in prison for sharing information about the situation in his country.
Photo: TCHRD

he information flow out of Tibet has nearly dried up over the past couple of months, but not quite completely. The latest reports to filter out actually shine a bright light on why this is so. Much of the information which has been cited on this blog since last March has been able to escape the security cordon only at great cost to some courageous individuals. The heaviest prison sentences reported to date, as a result of the Tibet crackdown, have been given to those attempting to get information to the outside world.

Information received by TCHRD on the recent sentencing of 7 more Tibetans to terms of between 8 years and life imprisonment have been confirmed by Chinese state-run media (the "Lhasa Evening News"). Five people were sentenced on October 27:Two other Tibetans were sentenced on November 7:Wangdue's whereabouts had been unknown to his family since he was taken from his home by Lhasa Public Security Bureau officers on March 14, 2008. He has previously been a political prisoner for participating in the March 1989 protests in Lhasa, and was released in 1995. He then studied English and later began working with an Australian public health institute on promoting HIV / AIDS awareness among Lhasa residents.

Yeshi Choedon, Tibetan patriot
Yeshi Choedon, a retired health worker, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sharing information about the situation in her country.
Photo: TCHRD
These efforts were evidently seen as successful, as Wangdue's group had been invited to give presentations at schools, government offices and even the T-"A"-R Police Academy. Now he has been jailed for life.

Migmar Dhondup (sentence: 14 years) is a conservationist who also worked with an NGO. Phuntsog Dorjee had also previously been a political prisoner in his occupied country, and therefore like Wangdue is considered a "recidivist" requiring "severe" punishment. The International Campaign for Tibet has the full translation of the "Lhasa Evening News" report, and more background on these political prisoners.

Now, keeping in mind this high human cost in getting these reports out to the free world, here are a few bulletins released last week.

At about 5 pm on November 20, a young Tibetan of around 20 years of age raised freedom slogans somewhere in Lhasa. He was brutally beaten and arrested by PSB officers. In Markham County, Chamdo (T-"A"-R) Khenpo Jampa Gyaltsen, the abbot of Woeser Monastery, was arrested and taken from his monastery on November 28.

Further information of killings by Chinese state agents has also come to light. Sonam Phuntsok, originally from Markham County, Chamdo, lived in Lhasa with his wife and two sons. He had protested without any violent actions on March 14, for which he was severely beaten by armed personnel. His wife, who is blind, pleaded with the officials to stop beating him, but they simply smashed her head with their batons. She died soon after Sonam was detained.
On 18 March, Sonam Phuntsok joined other Tibetan prisoners and shouted slogans of Tibet independence and for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, following which he along with fellow prisoners were severely beaten by prison guards. He died as a result of head injury sustained during torture by prison officials with electric baton. There were also reports about deaths of other prisoners under similar circumstances.

Begging was main source of livelihood of Sonam Phuntsok and his wife, who spent their last twenty years near the entrance to Ramoche Tsuglagkhang in Lhasa. After their deaths, there is no one to look after their two sons, aged 9 and 7.
Jampa Lhamo was a 45 year old woman who also hailed from Chamdo, and lived in the Ramoche district of Lhasa. She was arrested on March 29 and suffered severe torture in custody. She was later released in a seriously debilitated condition, and medical treatment was unable to help her. She died on November 28, 2008.

Tenzin Norbu was originally from Meldro Gongkar County near Lhasa. He was arrested for protesting in the capital and in Phenpo Lundrup County, also near Lhasa. He endured severe torture during his detention, and his body was later returned to his family by Lundrup county officials. It is still not known in which prison this occurred. He leaves behind his wife, and three children aged between 1 and 7 years old.

Ngawang Tsering was another brutality victim who hailed from Markham County, Chamdo. But Ngawang didn't even have to protest -- he went to a Lhasa hospital on March 13. Doctors said he was in need of a blood transfusion.
But the Chinese government, following its brutal crackdown on peaceful Tibetan protesters since 14 March, had issued strict orders that the army needed blood and no one should donate blood to Tibetans.

Despite repeated appeal, no one came forward to give blood to Ngawang Tenzin due to which he died in the hospital. But it was not clear whether it was TAR People’s hospital or Lhasa Municipality People’s hospital.
This one is very strange. I was just reading of one Chinese official's verbal tap-dancing response to the questions of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He assured the UN body that Tibetans enjoy complete and free-of-charge medical care. What does this mean, when a man is denied a blood transfusion? Oh, right -- never trust the word of a Chinese Communist Party official.

On Christmas Day it was reported by Chinese state media that security officials have detained 59 people for "rumour-mongering." Police had "cracked" 48 such rumour cases, according to the deputy police chief of Lhasa.
The report said the rumours "seriously undermined the image of the party and the government and harmed the public's sense of security."

The term "rumours" in China is often used to refer to anti-government views.

In one example mentioned in the report, unidentified people had downloaded "reactionary songs" from the Internet and sold them in compact disc and MP3 format in markets in Lhasa.
What these reports boil down to is this: Communicate information that the CCP doesn't like, to people outside Tibet, and you will be charged with treason and endangering state security. Communicate information that the CCP doesn't like, to people inside Tibet, and you will be charged with subversive rumour-mongering. But if you are a CCP official, you can lie to international bodies with complete impunity.

Got it.


t the close of the year, news organisations are keen to produce their Year End Review specials. By most measures, 2008 was a horrible one for China. Although the leaders expected their Olympic year to be a magnificent "arrival" to the world stage, other unexpected factors dashed their hopes for a single, positive narrative. Natural disaster, man-made disaster, intentionally poisoned baby milk (and now other products) for profit -- not quite the picture they wished to paint.

The events in Tibet (which really began in February, and protests persisting throughout the year) were, I believe, the most momentous since 1959. In the Chinese state's response, the friendly mask certainly slipped and created one of the worst public relations disasters of its recent history. International opinion (outside of Cuba, Venezuela and a couple of dependent African dictatorships) was remarkably unified, which in turn led to the domestic Chinese nationalistic backlash. This was not the showcase that the Party leaders were looking for. Yet the further the friendly mask slipped down, the more China's leaders seemed not to care, and they simply cranked up their Cultural Revolution-esque war-like rhetoric against Tibetan national pride.

However, it may be the case that next year is the one to watch. Anniversaries are important to the CCP, and 2009 is full of them. The 60th anniversary of the declaration of a "People's" Republic comes in October. But before that, on March 10, is the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising of 1959. A few weeks later, it will be 50 years since His Holiness Dalai Lama escaped into India. The annual March 10 observation will also mark the 20th anniversary of the major Tibetan uprising in 1989. And of course, June 4 is the 20th anniversary of the slaughter of China's nascent democracy movement in the streets around Tienanmen Square.

We'll be able to reflect on all those passages at this time next year. In looking back on the current year, Australia's ABC network offered some good discussion of China's big year in a current affairs special broadcast on Saturday night. You can read the full transcript, or listen to the radio program in several file formats at that page. Here are some highlights that caught my attention.

ABC China correspondent, Stephen McDonell, on witnessing the nationalist backlash against international support for Tibet:
In a way it was like the Cultural Revolution; students in their 20s shouting down anyone with a bad word to say about China.

Actually it was quite amazing to see; young people screaming about air time on foreign networks they don't watch or the cropping of photos in newspapers they don't read, as if this mighty military power was the victim of an international conspiracy.
The University of Technology's Professor David Kelly lives and works in Beijing:
But as you say, particularly the torch relay was a foreign relations debacle, major debacle. And the Government went into a reactive mode and started to behave without regard to the external perceptions. And this has carried on.

The behaviour now in regard to Tibet and Taiwan, I don't think they step up as the charm offensive or soft power which was very much the flavour of most discussions at the beginning of 2008. Who now is talking about China's soft power and China's charm offensive?
Correspondent Stephen McDonell was in Lhasa with an ABC crew in June for the Olympic torch relay:
The Chinese Government had slammed international protesters for politicising the Olympic Torch relay. But when the torch arrived in Lhasa what we saw was nothing short of a full scale political rally.

The torch was held high as a local leader announced, "We're going to use this torch to smash the Dalai Lama clique."
Professor David Kelly pointed out the difference in the Party's attitude when things are going well, from when they're not:
But, when there's a challenge, when things don't pan out as expected, the heavy boys come back in and they don't know the rules of the post-Cold War [era]. They go back to the old rules. So we've seen a lot of the old rules back in place and that was a perfect example.

In the Cultural Revolution this kind of language was heard every day. There was nothing good to be said about opponent. They are demonised and so we're still seeing right now demonising of political opponents who could, as far as the rest of us can see, could have been brought into the tent, could be spoken to in post-Cold War terms.

But the situation has obviously gone backwards and they've gone back to the tried and trusted propaganda state methods.
Professor Kelly also noted the risks attendant with the activities of the Fenqing, the "angry youth." Kelly believes the phenomenon was not encouraged by the government per se, but certainly by "some of the government."
This is a mass phenomenon. This was out of the state's control. It had to be hosed down. Fortunately the Olympics and the, above all, the earthquake brought that under control. That's another very fortunate dividend of those events...

This kind of nationalism has taken a serious knock from the Obama election. For those angry youth, they have to ask themselves: If the Americans can elect a minority person to their top leadership, what are we doing? Where is the Tibetan person in the politburo? This is big time politics and we have yet to see this thing work itself through.
For Fenqing types who do their battles on the internet, usually one of the first cards they pull out is, "Look what you Americans (or British, Germans, Canadians etc.) do to your minorities. We Chinese are just having our turn to do what you did."

In my experience, this never needs to be "teased" out, as Prof. Kelly mentions in the interview. I've always found them very quick to resort to it. Yet, as he says, one benefit of Obama's election is the symbolism (which almost everyone seems focused on), which tends to stifle this old tu quoque strategy. "Where is that today?" Kelly asks. "That has no audience."

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