On World Press Freedom Day (May 3), the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) calls on the Chinese government to ensure the freedom of speech and of the press by lifting all forms of censorship and harassment of journalists in the Tibet.
“Chinese government attempts to seal off Tibet from international media scrutiny have backfired,” said Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet. “The ban on foreign reporters and the detention of Tibetan journalists only reinforce the sense that they are hiding something in Tibet. Chinese propaganda about happy and tranquil Tibetans has no credibility with government and UN officials and with journalists at independent news outlets.”
Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guarantees that citizens enjoy freedom of speech and of the press. This is honored only in the breach, severely. China has one of the world’s most restrictive media environments, and international media watchdog groups report that the situation in Tibet is worse than in other areas of the PRC. In the last four years the number of Tibetan journalists jailed in China has more than doubled, according to a special report on China by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Meanwhile, Freedom House, in its ‘Freedom of the Press 2013’ China Country report, observes that several of the journalists serving the longest prison terms in China are Tibetans and Uyghurs.
In the Tibetan areas of Sichuan and Gansu Provinces, local authorities shut down communications networks completely several times last year in order to stop the dissemination of information on self-immolations happening there. As the number of self-immolations increased, authorities resorted to more draconian measures. Freedom House reports:
“In March, press watchdogs and Tibetan rights groups reported that authorities had posted public notices in eight counties in Gansu Province that threatened “violent beating/torture” for those found distributing written documents, online messages, or audio files containing “ideas of splitting the nation.”
In 2013, the Chinese authorities have arrested Tibetans for possessing and disseminating photos of those who had self-immolated. They were criminally charged for intentional homicide and “splitism” and sentenced with punishments ranging from two to 13 years in prison.
Foreign journalists have also not been allowed into Tibet and Tibetan language radio broadcasts of the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the English service of the BBC continue to be jammed. Tibetan language websites, blogs and Weibo postings too have been censored. A study published by the Carnegie Mellon University said that a far higher percentage of posts the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai province, where the vast majority of residents are Tibetan, were deleted by censors than those from Beijing and Shanghai. However, despite the heavy Chinese restrictions, Tibetans continue to find ways to communicate with the outside world. Dedicated listeners continue to do their best to get access to VOA and RFA broadcasts. Bloggers such as, Tsering Woeser, who was honored by the State Department as ‘Woman of Courage’ continue to report on conditions in Tibet despite restrictions to her movement and other forms of harassment.
In light of the increasing restrictions on media freedom in Tibet, ICT calls on the Government of the PRC to halt the arbitrary detention, surveillance and harassment of Tibetan journalists and allow international reporters to access to Tibet and other Tibetan areas.