DHARAMSALA, 20 Sept; Highlighting China’s mismanagement of the Covid pandemic, which has caused great suffering and hardships to local Tibetans, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) has called on the Chinese authorities to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is respected and guaranteed at all times.
While the Chinese authorities in Tibet issued a decree on 9 Aug. to strike hard on Tibetans crying for help through videos and posts on social media to draw attention to their plight under the appalling conditions they are subjected to under China’s strict measures, allegedly under Beijing’s so-called ‘Zero Covid Policy’ to spread the virus, the Dharamsala based rights group has declared that the policy is being employed to increase repression and for political goals.
“For all intents and purposes, the zero-Covid policy is being used as a pretext to double down on repression by silencing dissent and clearing the way for next month’s 20th Communist Party Congress that is widely believed to anoint Xi Jinping as the paramount leader of PRC for an unprecedented third term,” the TCHRD said.
The rights group reported that after the Chinese authorities maintained 920 consecutive days of zero Covid in the so-called TAR, on 8 August, Chinese authorities publicly admitted for the first time that there were 22 Covid positive cases in Lhasa and Ngari.
Tibetans in Shigatse, Lhasa and Ngari were placed under strict lockdown since 9 August as the cases were reported from Nyingtri, Lhoka, Chamdo, and Nagchu cities, it added.
The report added that Tibetans have used online platforms to openly criticize the Chinese government’s mismanagement of pandemic lockdowns because it continues to cause great suffering and hardships to them risking prosecution for charges ranging from “inciting separatism”, “destroying ethnic unity”, “destroying national unity” and “inciting state subversion”.
TCHRD confirmed that “some Weibo users have been publicly taunted online for allegedly spreading rumours about hospitals in Lhasa overflowing with patients with no space to quarantine new patients” while “some were penalised for spreading fake information in government reports.”
The spate of viral videos and posts on social media from Tibetans inside Tibet shows the dismal conditions in the quarantine shelters built in Lhasa, Shigatse and Chamdo cities with poor quality of food, bedding and bathrooms in the shelter where infected persons were quarantined alongside those who tested negative.
Tibetans, placed under highly repressive control at these quarantine centres have dubbed the centres ‘phaktsang’ (pigsties in Tibetan) where hundreds of people were forced to quarantine in crowded facilities without adequate medical care and meals, with some instances of patients offered spoiled food.
One viral video also showed some Tibetan youth with bruises on their faces and necks after being beaten up for protesting the terrible conditions in a shelter in Lhasa.
TCHRD has also reiterated calls made by the right groups, civil society and individuals “to protect the people reporting or exposing the harms, abuses and serious wrongdoing that occur as a result of the Chinese government’s attempts to achieve the unrealistic goal of zero-Covid.”
“TCHRD calls on the Chinese authorities to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is respected and guaranteed at all times. This is particularly vital considering the scale and extent of the Chinese government’s mismanagement of the Covid pandemic, which has caused great suffering and hardships to local Tibetans.”
The rights group concluded by calling on the “Chinese authorities to ensure that the efforts to control the pandemic must be guided by the principles of transparency, integrity and accountability, in addition to providing timely and proper assistance and support to the affected individuals and families in overcoming one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.”