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Travel restrictions tighten in Tibet ahead of Beijing Winter Olympics

Chinese authorities are ramping up security in Tibet ahead of next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, deploying large numbers of police to regional capital Lhasa and imposing restrictions on Tibetans’ movements in other areas, sources say.

The moves follow a Dec. 23 announcement by China’s central government Information Office that visitors to China will be strictly monitored during the Olympic Games, which will run from Feb. 4 to 20 in Beijing.

Security has already been tightened in many places in Tibet, a resident of Lhasa told RFA this week.

“In just a few days, greater security and restrictions have been put in place in Tibetan areas of Lhasa and in Shigatse, Chamdo, Draggo, Ngaba, and Rebkong,” RFA’s source said, referring to areas in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in western China’s Sichuan and Qinghai provinces.

Large numbers of police and armed security personnel have now been stationed in Lhasa, and persons visiting Lhasa from outside areas are being closely questioned, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“Privately owned restaurants and shops are also being thoroughly inspected,” he added.

Also speaking to RFA, a former resident of Sichuan’s Draggo (in Chinese, Luhuo) county now living in exile said Tibetans’ movements are being strictly controlled in Draggo and eastern Tibet’s Chamdo region.

“Chinese authorities have also begun household inspections in these areas,” the source said, citing local contacts in Draggo. “And local Tibetans are hiding any pictures they may have of the Dalai Lama, which have been banned by the Chinese government.”

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, fled Tibet in 1959 amid a failed national uprising against rule by China, which marched into the formerly independent Himalayan country and annexed it by force around 10 years before.

Tenzin Phentok, a researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibet Policy Institute, said that the COVID-19 pandemic that originated in China has drawn criticism of Beijing from many places around the world.

“And many governments are now not sending government officials to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics, citing China’s human rights abuses,” Phentok said. “So amidst these fears, the Chinese government is using COVID prevention measures as an excuse to prevent any possible further harm to the Games.”

Early this month, Australia, Canada, Lithuania, the United Kingdom and the U.S. announced a “diplomatic boycott” of the Games, saying they would send athletes but not diplomats or other government officials to Beijing.

To secure the right to host the Games, China made many promises to improve its record on human rights, said Tenzin Lekshey, spokesperson for the Dharamsala-based Tibetan exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration.

“But those promises were broken, and international communities are now constantly criticizing the Chinese government,” Lekshey said.

“Now China is using these COVID measures to hide their mistakes, which is very concerning. China must own up to the worsening human rights situation in the country.”

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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