Authorities in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region are detaining more nomadic Tibetans in Drago county and sending them to labor camps for having content deemed politically inappropriate on their cell phones, people with knowledge of the situation said.
“Many Tibetans were detained in January after Drago county police searched their phone data in Likhog town,” said a Tibetan in exile who has source inside the region. “Most of them are detained in a labor camp in Thangnagma.”
Most Tibetans who live in Likhog, which is located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Drago (in Chinese, Luhuo) county of Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, are nomads.
“It is not just a few Tibetans, but many Tibetans arrested this time,” added the Tibetan who declined to give his name for safety reasons.
“All of those who were arrested are nomads,” he said, though he could not provide an exact figure.
Authorities summoned the Tibetans to the police station and asked them if they possessed any politically sensitive photos, videos or other information, or to see if the owners had been in contact with Tibetans living in exile, said the Tibetan in exile.
Some of them were detained for one week and released and then unexpectedly detained again, he said.
“Though the Drago police have searched the cell phone data of the local Tibetans since last October, the situation right now is even worse,” the Tibetan in exile said.
The detentions come as much of the world’s attention is focused on China and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which run through Feb. 20. Several countries, including the United States, imposed diplomatic boycotts to protest China’s human rights abuses involving Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hongkongers.
Authorities began ramping up security measures and restrictions in Tibet’s capital Lhasa and other towns and villages before the start of the Games, said Ngawang Woebar, a former political prisoner now residing in Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile and the home of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.
“Chinese authorities have not even spared the most remote Tibetan areas for that matter, and Chinese police have been threatening and searching their cell phone data for sensitive information specifically from the exile community,” he said.
Authorities have been targeting former political prisoners while the Olympics are in progress, summoning them to police stations for questioning, Ngawang Woebar said, though he wasn’t aware of any specific detentions.
“The Chinese government has been keeping an eye on the daily activities of these former political prisoners, and they remain under tight scrutiny.”
RFA reported in early February that Chinese authorities beat and arrested 11 Tibetans, including monks, in January for spreading news of the destruction of a 99-foot-tall Buddha statue and dozens of prayer wheels in southwestern China’s Sichuan province. They were sent to labor camps in the region, according to Tibetans with knowledge of the situation.
The statue and 45 traditional prayer wheels in Drago county were destroyed in December 2021.