Tibet commodified for tourism as repression escalates

The Chinese news service Xinhua boasts Dec. 10 of the opening of a new luxury tourist train across Tibet under the auspices of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Corporation. Meanwhile, observing International Human Rights Day, the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) in the refugee community of Dharamsala, India, issued a statement saying the human rights situation in Chinese-occupied Tibet remains “tense and grim.”

Torture remains to be one of the gravest issues in Tibet. The Tibetan prisoners of conscience are subjected to severe torture and maltreatment in a network of detention centres and prisons in Tibet. Following ten years of appeals and negotiations, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowark, finally made an unprecedented trip to the People’s Republic of China from 20 November till 2 December 2005. Upon the completion of his visit, he reported that torture “remains widespread” in China and Tibet and also complained that his fact finding mission was obstructed by the authorities. TCHRD documented 88 known deaths of Tibetan prisoners of conscience since 1987 and is equally concerned about the 145 known Tibetan prisoners currently detained in various Chinese detention centres and prisons.

Religious repression in Tibet continues unabatedly despite Beijing’s repeated claim of religious freedom in Tibet. The authorities in Tibet unleashed a renewed implementation of the “patriotic re-education” campaign in the monasteries and nunneries of Tibet. Throughout the year, TCHRD received reports of expulsion and arrests of monks and nuns during the implementation of the Campaign in various monasteries and nunneries. At least one known death of a monk, Ngawang Jangchub of Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, in early October 2005 can be attributed to the “patriotic re-education” campaign. The Campaign which was first started in 1996 forms one of the major causes of religious repression in Tibet. The campaign is used as a tool to stabilize and to exert control over what the Chinese authorities term “the hotbed of dissent activities,” referring to the monastic institutions. The forcible implementation of the campaign in garnering loyalty to the state is in direct contravention with many international human rights provisions on religion. 17 May 2005 also marked the tenth year of the Eleventh Panchen Lama’s abduction by China. Despite repeated appeals by the UN, governments and non-governmental organizations, the Chinese authorities have not released any information as to where he is being held.

On 1 September 2005, China commemorated the 40th founding anniversary of the so-called “Tibet Autonomous Region”. In order to portray a “happy, modern and prosperous” Tibet to the outside world, China made a grand celebration to mark the day. As a preventative measure to avoid any disturbances during the celebration, the authorities stepped up the security and detained several Tibetan former political prisoners and also those under suspicion of political activities. Sonam Gyalpo, 43, a former political prisoner was arrested by the Chinese security officials on 28 August 2005 from his home in Lhasa. Till date no information could be obtained about his whereabouts.

On the 57th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, TCHRD urges the Chinese leadership to put an immediate end to the practice of torture in Tibet and the conduct of “patriotic re-education” in the monastic institutions of Tibet. The Centre urges China to respect the provisions in the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), both to which it is a state party. China should ratify the optional protocol to the CAT and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Centre would also like to call upon the Chinese government to respect and comply with international standards of human rights practices and its constitutional guarantees.

On Nov. 30, the TCHRD noted that several Tibetan monks were detained for opposition to a Chinese political campaign they were forced to participate in, sparking a rare mass protest. Five monks at the Drepung monastery, on the outskirts of the capital Lhasa, were expelled from the monastery and detained after refusing to sign a document denouncing the Dalai Lama as a separatist. In protest, more than 400 monks staged a sit-in in Drepung’s main courtyard on Nov. 25, refusing to denounce the Dalai Lama and accept that Tibet is a part of China and calling for the release of the five monks. (Reuters, Dec. 1)

See our last post on China, and on Tibet.

  1. Maybe there’s a bright side to everything…
    Global warming threatens Tibet rail link
    Feb 5, 7:56 AM ET

    BEIJING (Reuters) – Global warming could threaten the new Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world’s highest, within a decade, a Chinese researcher said in remarks published on Sunday.

    Wu Ziwang, a frozen soil specialist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the official Xinhua news agency his research over three decades revealed large areas of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau showed signs of shrinking, as they were frozen less of the time.

    This could threaten the new railway, which is to start operations this year, Wu said.

    “Fast thawing of frozen soil in the plateau might greatly increase the instability of the ground, causing more grave geological problems in the frozen soil areas where major projects such as highways or railways run through,” Wu added.

    A separate report by the academy’s desert institute showed that temperatures on the plateau have been rising markedly since 1984 and that winter temperatures could rise by another 1-2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

    China completed construction of the controversial pan-Himalayan railway in October. It is to go into trial operation on July 1, Xinhua said.

    The railway, which runs from Xining, capital of Qinghai province, to Tibet’s capital Lhasa, has been criticized for damaging the plateau’s fragile environment and for threatening Tibetan culture by speeding up migration from other areas.

    Close to 1,000 km (600 miles) of the line’s tracks run at more than 4,000 meters (13,000 ft), and it reaches 5,072 meters (16,640 ft) at its highest point.

    Wu is not the first Chinese researcher to warn that the project could be threatened by rising temperatures, but he forecasts it happening earlier than previously estimated.

    State media quoted Luo Yong, deputy director of China’s National Climate Center, as saying last June that rising temperatures on the plateau could affect safe operation of the railway by 2050.