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China demands information on COVID status of exiled Tibetans

Authorities in western China’s Sichuan province are demanding that local Tibetans report the COVID status of relatives living outside the country, threatening them with the loss of housing subsidies and other support if they fail to disclose the information, RFA has learned.

Local officials in the province’s Drago (in Chinese, Luohuo) county have gone door to door to collect the required data, a Tibetan living in exile said, citing contacts in Drago. Sichuan shares a border Tibet, which was invaded and incorporated into China by force more than 70 years ago. 

“Chinese authorities are now forcing Tibetans in Drago to disclose the COVID vaccination status of their relatives living abroad. The information should include proof of vaccination and details of additional doses,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“Tibetan families must also reveal the cell phone numbers and social media accounts of their relatives living outside of China,” the source said. “They are being told that if they fail to hand this information over, they will be removed from household registries and denied any state assistance they may be receiving from the government,” he added.

The reason for the data collection is still unclear, the source said. “However, there have been a few Tibetans living overseas who have been submitting their COVID vaccination records in the hope of someday returning to Tibet.

“On the other hand, the Chinese authorities may want to collect data on Tibetans living abroad simply to gather information,” he said.

China closely tracks communications from Tibetans living in Tibetan areas of China to relatives living abroad in an effort to block news of protests and other politically sensitive information from reaching international audiences, sources say.

In May, RFA reported that Sichuan authorities were forcing Tibetan monks in Drago, a county located in Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, to sign affidavits claiming responsibility for the destruction of a sacred statue torn down by China. The move came after news of the demolition reached the international community, prompting widespread condemnation.

The 99-foot tall Buddha that stood in Drago was targeted for destruction in December by officials who said the statue had been built too high. Monks from a local monastery and other Tibetan residents were forced to witness the destruction, an action experts called part of an ongoing campaign by China to eradicate Tibet’s national culture and religion.

Eleven monks from a nearby monastery were later arrested by Chinese authorities on suspicion of sending news and photos of the statue’s destruction, first reported exclusively by RFA, to contacts outside the region.

Using commercial satellite imagery, RFA later verified the destruction at the same time of a three-story statue of Maitreya Buddha, believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be a Buddha appearing in a future age, at Gaden Namyal Ling monastery in Drago.

Communications clampdowns and other security measures meanwhile remain in place in the county, Tibetan sources report.

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