Tibetan Jailed for Content of Text Messages

The Dui Hua Foundation has translated documents from the indictment and verdict of a Tibetan tour guide, Gonpo Tserang, who has been jailed for three years for text messages he sent during the spring 2008 national uprising in Tibet.

These messages, which prosecutors claim “distorted the facts and true situation regarding social stability in the Tibetan area following the ‘March 14 incident” were considered by the court to be deserving of severe punishment.

Dui Hua has important analysis of this sentencing:

Gonpo Tserang’s case illustrates both the extent to which Chinese police were engaged in monitoring communications between Tibetans and outsiders during the period after the protests and the low threshold for criminal liability in such situations. We do not know the content of Gonpo Tserang’s messages, but sending this handful of messages to individuals outside of China resulted in a three-year sentence. Such intense monitoring and the potential consequences of being caught saying the wrong things to outsiders help to explain the wariness of many Tibetans to report what they witnessed. To a large extent, this wariness has allowed the official Chinese narrative of events to become dominant. It also compels observers to wonder what punishments might be handed down to Tibetans who have been reported detained for saying or doing even more.

This is simply chilling. While we have seen massive Chinese censorship of the internet and availability of information about Tibet to people within Tibet and China, we have also seen a half century of the Chinese government criminalizing the idea of Tibetan independence. The history of China’s occupation of Tibet is filled with patriotic monks, nuns, and lay people being sentenced to jail time, beaten, and tortured for saying “free Tibet,” carrying the Tibetan national flag, singing the Tibetan national anthem, or carrying a picture of the Dalai Lama. But I don’t know of any instances where the Chinese government jailed a Tibetan for the contents of a text message. Sadly, it is a natural evolution of the Chinese government’s crackdown on Tibetans and their effort to eradicate Tibetan’s unquenchable desire for independence.

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