A Tibetan resident of western China’s Sichuan province was taken into custody by police in July for sharing a photo of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on the popular social media platform WeChat, Tibetan sources said.
Rinso, a resident of Thangkor township’s Village No. 3 in Dzoege county, a part of Tibet’s historical eastern region of Amdo, was held for just over a week and then released, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“Police released him on July 16 after he spent 10 days in custody,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Chinese authorities are closely monitoring discussions on WeChat, and are quick to intervene,” the source said, adding, “It is better to avoid speaking openly about certain things, and to avoid sharing photos.”
Regarded by Chinese leaders as a dangerous separatist, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese rule, and displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo or public celebrations of his birthday have been harshly punished in the past.
News of Rinso’s detention and release was delayed in reaching outside contacts owing to strict Chinese clampdowns in the area on information considered politically sensitive.
Also speaking to RFA, a second Tibetan source confirmed that Rinso, age 50, had been briefly detained by police before being freed without explanation.
“It is true that Rinso from Thangkor township has been released. The police held him for just over a week,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.
“At the beginning of May, Chinese authorities issued a bilingual notice cracking down on what it called the improper use of WeChat for spreading political news,” the source said, adding that discussions of developments in Hong Kong and Taiwan have been flagged as particularly sensitive.
“Only news reports approved by the Chinese government can be shared, and serious infractions of the rules can be punished by as much as eight years in prison,” the source said.
Rewards for informants
Chinese authorities in Tibet are now offering cash awards of as much as 300,000 yuan (U.S. $42,582) for information leading to the arrests of social-media users deemed disloyal to China, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Behaviors specified as illegal include online activities aimed at “attempting to overthrow [China’s] socialist system,” “advocating extremism,” “destabilizing national security,” and “defaming the People’s Republic of China,” according to a notice issued on Feb. 28 by three government departments of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.
Also banned are online expressions of support for the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Policy, which calls for greater autonomy for Tibet while acknowledging Beijing’s sovereignty over Tibetan areas now part of China.
Authorities in Tibetan areas of China frequently monitor online discussions and search mobile phones for what they consider politically sensitive content, and foreign news broadcasts are heavily restricted.