China cracks down on Tibetans' satellite TV "to quell unrest”

Photo courtesy of Radio Free Asia.
 
Chinese authorities in the Tso-Ngon province of historical Tibet (Qinghai province in Chinese) have launched a massive effort to get rid of satellite dishes that broadcast foreign channels, without specifying their motivations. Our Observer believes this is meant to stop information from spreading about a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans enraged with Chinese rule.
 
According to Radio Free Asia, the campaign kicked off in December, and it has been ongoing ever since. Thousands of satellite dishes have reportedly been confiscated in several provinces. Photographs sent to the radio station by local residents show dishes being burned by the authorities (see above photo).
 
Notices explaining the seizures were widely distributed in Tso-Ngon province. The one below, written in Tibetan, reads as follows (translation via Tibet Times):
 
“1. From the day this document is issued, every organisation or individual must stop the illegal selling, installing, and use of satellite signal receivers for TV and radio. (…) 3. In our province, wherever there is a wireless connection or a connection with wires for satellites, people or organisations using the receivers must immediately proceed to inspections in order to have those receivers destroyed and replaced with a “common receiver” [Editor’s Note: these are state-sanctioned and do not provide access to foreign channels]. 4. No individual or organisation, without the permission of the province’s administration, is allowed to receive signals from any foreign TV."
 
Photo courtesy of Ling Lhamo.
 
On January 24, another notice was issued in Malho prefecture (Huangnan prefecture in Chinese) detailing fines of 5,000 yuan (nearly 600 euros) and “other consequences” for those who keep using satellite dishes to watch foreign channels.
 
Nearly a quarter of Tso-Ngon province’s population is Tibetan. Many Tibetans accused the Chinese government of disrespecting their religion and their culture, and want independence for Tibet and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The authorities do not allow foreign journalists to work in Tibetan areas.
 
This photo of a dismantled satellite dish was sent to foreign activists by sources in Tso-Ngon province. Courtesy of Ling Lhamo. 
Contributors

“This is in direct reaction to the spate of self- immolations in Tibet”

Tenzin Namgyal is Tibetan. He lives in exile in Paris, where he co-presides the French branch of Students For a Free Tibet. As is regularly the case, it was impossible for FRANCE 24 to reach any Tibetans living in Tibet, who fear the potential repercussions of speaking to foreign media.
 
In Tibet, whenever there is some disturbance or protest, the first reaction of the Chinese authorities is always to censor information, for example by blocking radio waves or Internet access. [Editor’s Note: the Internet is closely monitored in Tibet; users are required to register their details with the authorities]. This time, it’s a campaign against satellite dishes, which seems to be in direct reaction to the spate of self-immolations that has spread throughout Tibet. [Editors Note: More than 90 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest China’s rule since 2009. The frequency of self-immolations has escalated this year, with 28 in November alone.] The authorities’ aim is to quell unrest, as images of these incidents are regularly leaked abroad, and then broadcast on satellite television stations. These are strong, striking images. Notes left by some of those who set themselves on fire suggest that they were inspired by seeing others do this.
 
To understand the reason the authorities are cracking down in this region and not in other Tibetan areas, you have to go back to 2008, when the bulk of protests took place there. In the wake of these protests, the government's response was most violent in Tso-Ngon.
 
“There’s a joke among Tibetans: ‘To get the real news, watch Chinese news, and then believe the opposite’”
 
Tibetans living in Tibet tell me that television and radio stations broadcast in from abroad are a lifeline. TV is now increasingly replacing radio. Voice of America’s program in Tibetan is quite popular, as is the Tibetan government in exile’s TV station. Tibetans say that one of the main benefits of receiving satellite TV is that they are able to see the Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, they find state television channels useless. There’s a joke among Tibetans: “To get the real news, watch Chinese news, and then believe the opposite.”
 
At the moment, it’s become very dangerous to talk to anyone inside Tibet. People are being sent to prison for disseminating information about self-immolations. I think the banning of satellite dishes clearly reveals where China is going wrong with Tibet - the authorities wrongly believe that the cause of unrest lies outside Tibet. When the Chinese government realizes that the cause lies with their wrongful policies, only then will Tibet see a lasting peace.
 
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