travel, history has shown, is as much a means of diversion and entertainment as
it is a tool of control. From Castro’s Cuba, where until recently Cubans
needed an exit permit to travel outside the country, to Ahmadinejad’s Iran,
where lawmakers are considering legislation
limiting women’s right to travel, authoritarian regimes often employ
stringent travel restrictions as a means of controlling a population.
example comes from China, where authorities are cracking down on dissenters by
refusing to re-issue passports to Tibetans.
report by the Washington Post, Chinese authorities instructed Tibetans to
turn in their old passports, ostensibly to be replaced by electronic ones
during a paper-to-electronic conversion. But the new electronic passports never
materialised, leaving many Tibetans without any passports and unable to travel.
The move has
severely limited Tibetan travel to Nepal, where Tibetans often travel for
business, religious and political reasons.
or March of last year, there has been no issuing of new Chinese passports to
Tibetans, and those in the TAR [Tibet Autonomous Region] were hit hard by the move," Office of Tibet in Taiwan researcher
Sonam Dorjee told
Radio Free Asia.
passport move follows a rocky year for Tibet-China relations. 2012 saw a slew
of Tibetan freedom demonstrations followed by a crackdown by the Chinese
government, including the confiscation of thousands of satellite dishes and the
introduction of Chinese security forces to monitor activity in the region.
Tibetans embarked on a series of self-immolations in protest of China’s
increasingly tightening grip, a highly-publicised measure that gained overseas
attention and sympathy – and further inflamed the Chinese.
official passport, released in 2012, also includes a small watermark map that
includes Taiwan, disputed
territory claimed by India as well as islands claimed by the Philippines,
Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia – a move that stirred
regional ire in more ways than one. The watermark has renewed fears of
China’s heavy-handedness and brought about fresh diplomatic tensions, with
Vietnam and India refusing to stamp the passports and Taiwan and the
Philippines lodging formal complaints.
normal conditions, Tibetans face more complicated and stringent travel
procedures than their Chinese brethren. “They may have to wait for years for
their applications to be processed and may have to pay bribes along the way,” Dorjee
Tibetans must sign waivers agreeing not to engage in “illegal activity” or
“activities harmful to the nation” while abroad, must surrender all travel documents
to authorities within seven days of their return home and report to police upon
return, where they may be subject to interrogations – restrictions not imposed
on Chinese nationals.
“It shows that
even though all are considered Chinese citizens, TAR passport applicants do not
have the same rights as guaranteed in China for other applicants,” Dorjee said.
Chinese authorities have shown no signs of lifting the passport restrictions,
leaving many Tibetans stuck in the TAR. As it has in other countries, the
travel restrictions will likely exacerbate existing tensions between China and