Fearing protests, Beijing imposes a lockdown on Tibet

Chinese authorities ban foreign travellers from the autonomous region between 25 February to 30 March, a period Tibetans use to mark past popular uprising against Maoist forces, the Dalai Lama’s flight, and the protests against the Beijing Olympics. Restrictions are also imposed on local residents who cannot travel beyond ten kilometres from their place of residence.

Lhasa (AsiaNews) – Chinese authorities announced that all foreign travellers will be banned from the Tibet Autonomous Region and travel by local residents will be restricted at the end of this month and for the whole month of March because of upcoming anniversaries of past anti-Communist unrest, like the March 2008 incidents that rocked the plateau in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

Provincial authorities issued a notice to all major cities and counties that all foreign visitors must leave the region by 25 February, and that the province will be closed until 30 March.

Local residents have also been informed that they cannot travel more than ten kilometres from their place of residence, and that they would be punished if they failed to respect the restriction.

Travel agencies expect that the first week of April might be the likely date for the reopening of the region for tourism.

The first significant anniversary remembered in this period goes back to 1959 when an armed uprising, which had begun in eastern Tibet in 1957, spread to the rest of the country, including the capital Lhasa. Following the invasion by the People’s Liberation Army, the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa’s Norbulingka Palace, on 17 March 1959, disguised as a soldier. After finding refuge in India, he set up a Tibetan government-in-exile.

Some 30 years later, unrest broke out in March 1988 and then again in March 1989, when hundreds of people took to the streets to mark the anniversary of the 1959 invasion. The then local Party Secretary, Hu Jintao, who later became president of the People's Republic of China, used an iron fist to clamp down on the protest. A few months later, he sent China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping a telegram congratulating him for the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The last time the region saw unrest was in 2008 when Beijing hosted the Olympic Games. For the first time in two decades, Lhasa monasteries opened their doors that year to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the failed uprising against China’s occupation.

Between 300 and 400 monks walked out of two of the largest monasteries near the Tibetan capital, and marched in procession, calling for the release of detained religious and lay people and the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland.

As expected, Chinese authorities reacted with violence: hundreds were arrested and an unknown number of people were killed.