Tibetan students and their parents in a county in Kanlho (Chinese:Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province are seeking justice in a case of manipulation of the results of high school graduation exams to the detriment of local students, according to Tibetan sources.

Over the past two weeks, hundreds of Tibetan students and parents have been involved in vigils at the government offices in Luchu (Chinese: Luqu) in Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, challenging the authorities over the apparent sale of exam results to other candidates.

Students at the Luchu Middle School, a boarding school for Tibetan students that includes a high school department, found that after their final exams in December 2014, high marks by local Tibetan students were apparently sold by some officials in exchange for the poorer results of other students from outside the area, according to Tibetan sources in contact with those in the area.

According to the same sources, this is not the first time that students in Luchu have experienced injustice from local officials over their education. While the authorities used to ensure jobs for Tibetan graduate students in Luchu, in the past two years, local graduates have been sidelined from these opportunities of employment, which include work as local officials or teachers depending on qualifications.

Older Tibetans involved in protecting the students’ interests have warned local officials that they will take their issue to higher levels if the grievances are not properly addressed by the county authorities.

Photographs and video of the vigils, which began on December 28 and have involved students and parents gathering inside the local government building as well as outside, have circulated on social media. According to information from Tibetan sources, one group of Tibetans has maintained a vigil intermittently at the government offices since late December, while other individuals are seeking to raise the same concerns at the prefectural capital, Tsoe City (Chinese: Hezuo).

The transcript of a video of the vigil at the government office on January 7, 2015, showed a Tibetan explaining that the group had decided to stay there until senior leaders would talk to them. The source said: “There are many elderly and sick people in the group who are determined to help ensure a future for the children, and have no qualms even if they have to lose their lives.”

Local Tibetans are worried about the safety of the Tibetan students who are seeking justice from local officials, given the methods of dispersing demonstrations that have been used before in Tibetan areas and arrests that have often followed. According to the same sources, the Deputy Mayor of the county came to speak to the students after a few days of the vigil, urging them not to take their complaints to a higher level, saying that the matter would be ‘investigated’. According to reports received by ICT, students believe there has not been an adequate response, and they have not been able to meet the county leader.

A Tibetan from Amdo who is now in exile said: “A lot of people in the area are now talking about the students’ actions against the corruption, saying that it is possible that this can now trigger some other investigations into official corruption. Corruption among officials is known to be wide-ranging but so far local people feel that officials have not responded to complaints about this. So they hope that they can draw the attention of the central Party authorities to matters of corruption in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The people know that Xi Jinping has prioritized the fight against corruption.”

This week, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized the role of county-level governments in ensuring authority and “exercising self-discipline” in the high-profile campaign against corruption China. Speaking at the first seminar for county-level Party chiefs at the Central Party School of the CCP on Monday (January 12), Xi said county-level governments had “taken on more responsibility in the implementation of reform measures, the promotion of rule of law and the enforcement of strict Party discipline. Thus, Party chiefs must acknowledge their authority and exercise self-discipline in their work.” (Xinhua, January 12, 2015).

Students and schoolchildren in the Tibetan area of Amdo have been at the forefront in defending their language and education system, despite intensifying repression and the dangers of imprisonment for demonstrators.

A report by Freedom House in Washington, DC, concluded that across China, civil society participation in defense of people’s rights is growing despite the oppression. The report concluded that Chinese Communist Party repression has intensified under the leadership of Xi Jinping, but has also trapped the party in a vicious circle whereby increasing coercion breeds growing resistance, requiring ever more intense crackdowns. Despite the heightened repression, Freedom House said, “fear of the regime appears to be diminishing” and “civic participation in rights defense activities is growing.” (Freedom House report, January 13, 2015, ‘The Politburo’s Predicament: Confronting the Limitations of Communist Party Repression’).

See for instance the ICT report “Thousands of Tibetan students and schoolchildren gather for peaceful demonstration in Rebkong”.