Chinese censors close Tibetan website

New York, March 23, 2011–Information authorities in China should restore access to a Tibetan news and blog site whose founder reports has been shuttered without explanation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Wangchuk Tseten, one of the founders of Chinese-language Tibetan affairs website TibetCul, said on his personal microblog that the website went offline on March 16, according to a translation by London-based Tibetan activist and blogger Dechen Pemba on Global Voices Online. Wangchuk Tseten wrote that “higher authorities” had ordered server operators to shut the site down but that the reason for the decision was confidential, according to Global Voices. 

An affiliated website, MyBudala, was also shut down shortly before March 10, according to an article from Dharamsala on The Tibet Post International website. MyBudala had a social networking section which is also inaccessible, according to Global Voices and High Peaks Pure Earth, a blog that translates posts from the Tibetan blogosphere to which Dechen Pemba contributes. At least two other Tibetan-language websites, DobumNet and Sangdhor, are also down, Dechen Pemba told CPJ by email.

March 10 marks the anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule, which in 2008 sparked pro-independence demonstrations that escalated into clashes with security forces and Han Chinese, leading to an information lockdown, according to CPJ research. Chinese Internet users have witnessed a recent increase in surveillance, detentions, and censorship after some bloggers called for anti-government “Jasmine Revolution” demonstrations modeled on unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The disappearance of more Tibetan voices from the Internet in China is not surprising, but it is disturbing,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Ethnic minority, activist and anti-government viewpoints are increasingly falling victim to Chinese authorities’ latest attempts to suppress information.”

Several Tibetan writers were imprisoned following the 2008 violence, and information from Tibetan areas is heavily restricted, according to CPJ research. Foreign journalists say they must apply for permission to visit, usually on an official government tour. The Tibetan Autonomous Region was closed to all foreign visitors for the month of March, according to Agence France-Presse.

But TibetCul administrators discouraged content that might antagonize the Chinese Communist Party, and closed for “maintenance,” possibly to minimize sensitive postings, in March 2009, according to the Post and Global Voices. “It’s truly bewildering that TibetCul should be taken down so suddenly. It hosted seven years’ worth of content and had 80,000 registered users,” Dechen Pemba told CPJ by email.

Dechen Pemba wrote an account of imprisoned Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen on the CPJ website in December 2009.