Beijing (AFP) - China's state media on Thursday called for officials who take an "ambiguous attitude" towards Tibetan independence to be prosecuted, after personnel in the region were reportedly punished for communicating with the Dalai Lama.
A total of 15 officials of the ruling Communist party had "violated discipline" for activities including "providing information to the Dalai Lama" and "participating in underground groups", the state-run China News Service said this week, adding they would be punished by party authorities.
Many Tibetans resent Chinese rule and official restrictions on their Buddhist religion. China strictly limits public expressions of support for the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader who escaped China in 1959 and is still revered by many Tibetans.
Beijing says it has brought development to the region, denies repression and brands the Dalai Lama a "separatist" seeking independence for Tibet.
The Global Times newspaper, which has ties to the ruling Communist party, said in an editorial that "if there are officials who take an ambiguous attitude on the Tibetan independence question... they must be investigated and prosecuted regardless of their ethnicity".
"Party officials in Tibet won't receive favourable treatment for their support of separatists and they will pay the price for this. This must be made known to all Tibetan officials," it added.
The US-based International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement that the move would add to tensions in the region, saying: "Punishing Tibetan officials for allegedly supporting the moderate policy of genuine autonomy put forward by the Dalai Lama is a radical and wrong move that could further alienate the Tibetan population.?
It added that restrictions have increased since deadly riots in the Tibetan capital Lhasa in 2008, under which "almost any expression of Tibetan identity not directly sanctioned by the state can be branded as ?anti-separatist?, and penalised by a prison sentence, or worse".
More than 130 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest against Chinese policies since 2009, with most dying.