By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s top official in Tibet has urged authorities to tighten their grip on the Internet and mobile phones, state media reported on Thursday, reflecting the government’s fears about unrest ahead of its annual parliamentary session.
The move is the latest in a series of measures the government says are intended to maintain stability, and comes after a spate of self-immolations and protests against Chinese control in the country’s Tibetan-populated areas.
It is likely to mean phone and online communications will be even more closely monitored and censored than is normal.
Chen Quanguo, who was appointed the Chinese Communist Party chief of Tibet last August, urged authorities at all levels to “further increase their alertness to stability maintenance” ahead of the National People’s Congress, the official Tibet Daily newspaper quoted him as saying on Wednesday.
China’s rubber-stamp parliament session meets next Monday.
“Mobile phones, Internet and other measures for the management of new media need to be fully implemented to maintain the public’s interests and national security,” Chen said.
China has tightened security in what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan parts of the country following several incidents in which people have set fire to themselves, and protests against Chinese rule, mostly in Sichuan and Gansu provinces.
March is a particularly sensitive time for Tibet, as it marks five years since deadly riots erupted across the region.
Twenty-two Tibetans have set themselves alight in protest since March 2011, and at least 15 are believed to have died from their injuries, according to rights groups. Most of them were Buddhist monks.
Chen also vowed to “completely crush hostile forces” that he said were led by the Dalai Lama, suggesting that he will not ease the government’s hard-line stance towards the region, enforced by his predecessor Zhang Qingli.
The Chinese government has repeatedly blamed exiled Tibetans for stoking the protests, including spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising. China has ruled Tibet since 1950.
“The Dalai clique is unceasingly trying to create disturbances in Tibet and Tibetan parts of Sichuan,” Jia Qinglin, the Communist Party’s fourth-ranked leader, told a meeting in Beijing, state television reported.
Officials must “resolutely smash the Dalai Lama’s plots to sow chaos in Tibet and maintain social harmony and stability,” added Jia, who heads a largely ceremonial body that advises parliament.
Nationally, defending one-party control is a leadership priority. Official anxieties about unrest have multiplied ahead of a change of leadership later this year, when President Hu Jintao will hand power to his successor, widely expected to be Xi Jinping.
Beijing often uses the meeting of parliament as an excuse to clamp down on dissent in an effort to project the appearance of political unity.
A prominent Beijing-based Tibetan writer who goes by the single name of Woeser said on Thursday that state security agents have barred her from collecting an award given by the Netherlands.
Woeser was awarded the Prince Claus award last September for her work on Tibet, according to the website for the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. She was due to accept the award on Thursday at the Dutch ambassador’s house in Beijing, she said.
“They told my husband that I couldn’t go to the ceremony but didn’t give specific reasons,” Woeser told Reuters by telephone. “They said even if I wanted to go, I wouldn’t be able to go. They have people below our apartment watching us.”
Dutch officials were not immediately available for comment.