China’s latest restriction for Tibetans: no passports

January 23, 2013

Freetibet.org released this October photo of the burning body of a Tibetan man identified as Dhondup at the remote Labrang Monastery in northwestern China. (AP Photo/Freetibet.org, File)

The Tibetans of China had a difficult 2012, and so far 2013 is not looking much better. Tibetan self-immolations, in protest against Beijing's increasingly harsh rule over the Himalayan region, are continuing apace. Since the new Communist Party leadership took power, Chinese authorities appear to have tightened their grip on Tibet, sending in security forces to cordon off areas of unrest and even confiscating thousands of satellite dishes.

Now China may also be restricting Tibetans' international travel. According to a story from Radio Free Asia, Tibetan rights groups say that Chinese authorities have not issued any new passports to Tibetans living in the Tibetan autonomous region for almost a year. The only exceptions, according to one of the sources, have been "a few Tibetan officials." (Radio Free Asia, it's worth noting, is largely supported by U.S. government grants and tends to be strongly critical of China on human rights.)

It turns out that China had just instituted a new, electronic passport. Officials had required all Tibetans in the Tibetan region to surrender their old passports, ostensibly to be replaced by the electronic version. But now many Tibetans don't have their old or new passports and can't travel internationally. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to visit Nepal or India, where some Tibetan political groups are based. And Tibetans' movement within China is, as usual, also restricted.

In November, Chinese writer Wang Lixiong published an op-ed in the New York Times explaining what happened recently to his wife, Woeser, a prominent Tibetan poet who lived with him in Beijing.

A few weeks ago, China’s political police asked my wife to leave Beijing because “18th Major,” a once-in-a-decade coronation of new party leaders, was on the way. The Communist Party views Tibetans and Uighur Muslims from western China as noxious. They are constantly under suspicion as troublemakers, if not terrorists. My wife, as it happens, is petite, as lacking in guile as a window pane, and about as far from a terrorist as one could get.

She has, however, written some words in protest of the fate of her fellow Tibetans. And for this, the party has put her on a blacklist, barred her from publishing, deprived her of her job, and denied her a passport. When she obeyed the recent order and headed home to Tibet, police officers along the way stopped and searched her at nearly every juncture. While Chinese people — on airplanes, trains, buses and motorcycles — are streaming into and out of Tibet by the thousands, Tibetans themselves have become outsiders in their own land, blocked at every turn.

Wang wrote that, later, state security also asked him to leave Beijing.

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Max Fisher | January 23, 2013