Tibetans who protested the seizure of their pasture land by Chinese authorities in Markham county in April have been subjected to a series of political education sessions after they were accused of protesting for political reasons, two sources with knowledge of the situation said.

Area officials are also preventing the Tibetans from petitioning higher authorities in Chamdo, a city in the eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region, for fair compensation for their land, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

County officials have misled higher-ranking officials in Chamdo and in Tibet’s capital Lhasa into thinking that the protest by Tibetan residents was political in nature, rather than an appeal against the land grab, said the first source.

“[They] have used that as an excuse to organize a series of political education sessions in the area,” he said.  

In early April, 25 Tibetan families from Taktsa village in Markham county learned their land had been sold without their knowledge to businessmen by county officials, when the new owners sent people to clear it.

Four Tibetans were arrested April 10 for protesting the land grab and later released on April 16, but they were beaten while in detention.

Chinese authorities in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in Tibetan-populated areas of nearby Chinese provinces often ignore residents’ concerns about mining and land grabs by local officials, who routinely rely on force to subdue those who complain or protest, according to human rights groups.

Rejecting low compensation

In April, the Tibetans rejected 3,000 yuan (US$415) in individual compensation that was belatedly offered to them by Chinese authorities, saying the amount was too low for the pasture land that had been sold by Chinese county officials to businessmen in 2023

Since then, the Tibetans have had to attend a series of political education sessions, with more than 30 Chinese county officials from various departments visiting the area over the past month, said the two sources. 

Chinese authorities in Markham county also announced a reward for information that could help them identify an individual who shared news of the land grab protest with outside parties, the sources said.

“This is the first time we have seen such rigorous political education sessions and monitoring in the area, with so many levels of officials visiting the place to conduct group political education sessions and going door-to-door,” said the second source.

On April 16, the Luoni Township Party Committee, where the village is located, organized a Chinese Communist Party discipline study and political education meeting with over 30 Chinese officials. They included members of the township party committee, all party members of directly affiliated branches, at-home cadres, temple management committees, police stations, health centers and school administrators. 

“Following the meeting, members of the Chinese Working Affairs Committee visited each family in their homes to provide political education,” the second source said. 

They told the Tibetans that the Chinese government would address any problems they faced, but that they couldn’t share information with people living outside Tibet because it would compromise national dignity and reflect poorly on the Chinese Communist Party, thereby constituting a criminal act, the second source said.

Police monitoring

Since the protest, around 10 policemen have been deployed to patrol the area day and night to monitor the Tibetans’ activities, the sources said. 

“Instead of addressing the core problem, Chinese authorities are using political maneuvers and have prevented local Tibetans from appealing their case in Chamdo,” said the first source.  

The first source said the land taken from the Tibetans is 1.5 kilometers (one mile) long and covers an area of 1 square kilometer (0.4 square miles), and is worth about 5 million yuan, or US$692,000. 

Officials told the residents to accept their offer of 3,000 Chinese yuan each without protest or face imprisonment for noncompliance.

The Chinese police and Markham county officials are now threatening the Tibetans by labeling the protests as political in nature and intimidating locals about likely consequences, given that protests of a political nature amount to a criminal offense, the sources said. 

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