AP: Rare Glimpse of Aba Lockdown

Gillian Wong of the Associated Press reports from the town of Aba in Sichuan province, ground zero for a string of self immolations in recent months as Tibetans continue to protest repression by the Chinese government, after she slipped through several checkpoints and observed the ongoing lockdown by security forces:

Soldiers with helmets, rifles, sticks and shields march in rows along this monastery town’s main road against a backdrop of snow-speckled mountains, while police stare at passing cars, scanning license plates and faces of passengers for unwelcome visitors. In school dormitory rooms in the county, there are random checks for books that go against the ruling Communist Party establishment — and the constant questions about political leanings.

“They’ll ask you questions and if you answer with your true feelings, they will be very unhappy. If you keep quiet, they will also be unhappy,” said a Tibetan who teaches at a school in Aba county and who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

“They want you to say that the party is good and their policies are good,” he added.

Teachers also are banned from making any mention — positive or negative — of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, the teacher said during an interview in the neighboring county of Hongyuan.

Security appears to be tightening ahead of a number of Tibetan anniversaries this month, including commemorations of deadly anti-government riots in Lhasa in 2008 and the Dalai Lama’s flight from the region in 1959. China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) will also open their annual sessions in the next several days, with The China Daily reporting that stability is expected to become a buzzword during the meetings.Wong also mentions that authorities have cut  Internet and cell phone text messaging services in the area, and Voice of America reports that the regional Communist Party chief has urged authorities to clamp down:

The state-run Tibet Daily quotes regional Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo as saying that maintaining stability in the Himalayan region “means everything. Unstable elements must be nipped in the bud and all work at maintaining stability must be deepened.”

He also said security forces “must crush hostile forces” led by the Dalai Lama — the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who is widely revered outside China, while accused by Beijing of fomenting rebellion in Tibetan regions.

Back in Beijing, The New York Times reports that police have placed a prominent Tibetan writer under house arrest to prevent her from accepting a prize from the Dutch Embassy:

The writer, Woeser, said in a telephone interview in the afternoon that there were police officers downstairs in her apartment building, where she lives on the 20th floor. She said she was unsure of the exact number, but had noticed at least two men in a car outside the main door and others waiting nearby. She said Beijing police officers came to her apartment on Wednesday night and told her she would not be allowed to receive the award. “I told the embassy last night that I probably won’t be able to go this evening,” said Woeser, who like many Tibetans goes by only one name.

The embassy is giving Woeser an award from the Prince Claus Fund. The fund’s Web site says the award is given out annually to individuals and organizations in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America “for their outstanding achievements in the field of culture and development.”

Woeser, who has written critically of the Chinese government’s policies in Tibet, said she had planned to go the Dutch ambassador’s residence on Thursday at 6 p.m. to have dinner and receive the award. The ceremony was originally to have been at the embassy but was recently moved to the residence.

See also an early poem written by Woeser in 1984 as a first-year college student studying at the faculty of Chinese language at the Southwest University for Nationalities, as well as recent CDT coverage of “China’s Misguided Religious Battle.”