The detention of a 30-year old Tibetan elementary school teacher, who goes by the name of Palgon his alleged contacts with exiles overseas should not come as a surprise. This is part of the system of persecution of Tibetans that Chinese authorities have put in place for a long time. However, the Covid-19 pandemic brings to the fore a new mechanism by which the State keeps tabs on Tibetans. The Voice of America (22 September) summarises the current situation in Tibet by stating that “Tibetans are monitored more heavily and face harsher repercussions than people elsewhere because of the political sensitivity of the region.” Especially in Lhasa, people were “quarantined in empty stadiums, schools, warehouses and unfinished buildings.” The situation in Tibet is unbearable and protests began against President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy first on social media in September 2022 and moved on to the streets on 27 October to protest the lockdown imposed since 8 August 2022.
Radio Free Asia reports that the writer, Palgon, was arrested at his home in August 2022 and has been incommunicado ever since. “His family members were also not informed or given proper reasons for his arrest other than Palgon’s contact with people in exile to offer prayers to His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” one source told RFA. Palgon is from the Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in China’s south-eastern Qinghai province. He was an elementary school teacher in the prefecture’s Pema county, but he later resigned from his role and continued as an independent writer. Over the last few months, RFA has reported on China’s arrests of monks, writers, young protestors, and other Tibetan figures in a wide-ranging crackdown. Those detained will often be held incommunicado for months before being sentenced.
This trend of controlling the lives of ordinary citizens of Tibet continued even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Tibetans were arrested for sharing online Covid-related photos and videos. For instance, the local media reported the case of a nomad, Rinchen Dhondup and other six fellow Tibetans who were arrested (14 September 2022) for this reason. Other Tibetans were arrested in Lhasa, Nagqhu, and other counties for similar crimes. Of all this repressive policy against Tibetans using the supposedly anti-Covid measures, one key point is especially alarming. First, to ascertain infections, Tibetans are compelled to undertake antigen tests. Social media showed pictures and footage of Tibetans standing in huge lines in inclement weather. Many were women with their little children: all had to wait in harsh conditions for being tested. Secondly, even some people who tested negative were separated from others, quarantined, and repeatedly monitored.
Voice of America reported that a Tibetan man and his three young children were taken to the Lhasa Beijing Middle School Quarantine Center after the man’s wife’s anti-COVID test was inconclusive. “Authorities,” reports VoA, “required the entire family to quarantine with 800 people.” Two of those young kids “developed fevers in the school facility where there were no doctors, medicine or medical treatments.” It is quite difficult to describe this as a measure to protect the health of Tibetans. Again, in a viral audio recording, a Tibetan father pleads with a government official at one of the Lhasa quarantine centers to not separate him from his year-old child” even though they had all tested negative for COVID. “Now we have tested positive,” the Tibetan father lamented, “and you want to take away our child.” Once more, it is rather difficult to describe this as a measure to protect the health of Tibetans.
In the second half of September 2022, the number of worldwide infections was the lowest since March 2020, when virtually the entire world was under a lockdown. The World Health Organization, then announced that the pandemic was virtually over. Yet, China remained in a state of lockdown since early August. If what the WHO said at that time was correct, this massive and strict Chinese lockdown had no reason to be in place. The situation continued for weeks, exacerbating Chinese citizens, impoverishing businesses, and destroying families. Finally, in late November protests burst out in the streets of unprecedented magnitude since the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen square. Demonstrations were held in the nation’s capital Beijing, in the country’s financial capital Shanghai, in the trade and manufacturing center of Guangzhou, as well as in many other cities across the country. It was the consequence of the “Zero COVID” policy of Xi Jinping: harsh, severe, and also unmotivated if the Chinese-friendly WHO was not lying.
On 24 November 2022, a fire broke out in a residential building in Urumqi. Officially, ten Uyghur died and an additional nine were injured, while independent and more believable sources assessed casualties at 44. In fact, they were victims of President Xi’s zero-covid policy. The strict “zero covid” policy of the government prevented the residents from leaving the building and interfered with the efforts of firefighters. This ignited more popular demonstrations, protesting the infamous and murderous lockdown. In front of the huge protests throughout the country, the government seemed not to know what to do: either continue with the lockdown, risking deadly incidents reminiscent of Tiananmen, or lose its face in front of the protesters and the world. We all know what happened.
Suddenly, China ended the lockdown, just like nothing had happened for months, a few hours after saying that the lockdown was indispensable and will continue. Chinese citizens began to move freely around the country and reportedly the infection sky-rocketed again. While the whole world begs the Chinese regime to tell the truth, at least once, and release true data on the infections, no one yet knows the real figures. The “zero-covid” policy of Xi has been a great tool for repression. Lockdowns and similar measures greatly helped the regime to implement its gigantic and hyper-technological system of control and surveillance of its citizens, under the pretext of protecting their health. Maybe Xi’s policy also partially counteracted the infections by COVID 19, but for sure it brought repression to its zenith.