By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 29, 2009
BEIJING, Jan. 28 -- Chinese authorities carrying out a "strike hard" campaign in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa have raided thousands of homes and businesses, run checks on 5,766 suspects, and detained at least 81 people, including two for having reactionary songs and music on their cellphones, according to official reports and news accounts.
According to reports Sunday in the state-controlled Tibetan Daily and last week in the Lhasa Evening News, the campaign targets criminal activity such as burglary, prostitution and theft and is needed to uphold the city's social order. But experts and activists who support greater autonomy for Tibet said the motive behind the campaign, which began Jan. 18, was to detain those involved in last spring's riots and warn off others who support Tibetan independence.
Chinese leaders are worried about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising. On March 10, 1959, Tibetans rose up against Chinese rule, but the rebellion ended after 20 days with the flight of the Dalai Lama into exile in India. Beijing-backed Tibetan lawmakers have proposed a new holiday this year, on March 28, the day China announced the dissolution of the Tibetan government, to mark the "liberation" of Tibetan serfs.
Lhasa's entire investigative police force mobilized more than 600 people and 160 vehicles to check 2,922 rented apartments or houses, 14 hotels and guesthouses, 18 bars, and three Internet cafes, the Lhasa Evening News said, according to a translation e-mailed by the International Campaign for Tibet, which advocates more autonomy for the Himalayan region. The police push follows 10 months of tight security after rioting broke out March 14, leading to the deaths of at least 18 civilians and one police officer and sparking anti-government protests and a massive government crackdown.
"Strike hard" campaigns have historically been launched in China to fight crime and corruption. But in this case, the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement, "the motive is to intimidate and eliminate those supporting Tibetan independence and human rights activists in Tibet."
The public security bureau in Lhasa said Wednesday that it had no information and suggested other officials, whose telephones rang unanswered. China is celebrating a week-long Lunar New Year holiday.
Thousands of armed police continued to patrol Lhasa on Wednesday, according to residents who were contacted by telephone. Some speculated that the raids were deliberately timed just ahead of the Lunar New Year. Some Tibetans have said they won't celebrate until the return of the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing regards as a dangerous separatist, while others said they prefer the Tibetan New Year, which occurs next month, over the Chinese one.
"There are a lot of policemen patrolling with guns right now," said Zhuoga, 24, a housekeeper at the Zhengchang Dongcuo International Youth Hostel in Lhasa, who like most Tibetans uses only one name. "In each alley and each intersection there are armed patrols. Before, even in the winter, we were full, but right now our guests are far fewer."
Arwang, a monk living in Qinghai province who declined to name his monastery for fear of reprisals, said, "This year, few Tibetans -- especially monks -- will celebrate the New Year." Asked why, he said: "Can we not talk about this? Traditionally, some of us celebrate both the Tibetan and Chinese New Years, but this year we neither ate good food nor lit firecrackers."
Zheng, a freshman at Chengdu University who was home for the winter holiday working at her family's cigarette and wine shop, did not expect any trouble this year. "Some people say the riots might happen again this year," she said. "But since security is so strict now, it's impossible that anything horrible will happen."
Researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report.