Beijing: A Chinese province with a large Tibetan population has ordered shopkeepers to hand in portraits of the Dalai Lama, state-run media said on Wednesday, quoting Beijing experts likening the Nobel laureate to executed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Sichuan in the southwest, which includes several ethnically Tibetan areas, set up a "law enforcement squad" of cultural bureau personnel, police and other officials to enforce the drive, reported the Global Times, which is close to the ruling Communist party.
The aim was to "crack down on pornography and illegal publications, which include portraits of the Dalai Lama" ahead of the Lunar New Year, it quoted Gou Yadong, director of the provincial publicity department, as saying.
People were more than welcome to put on show pictures of the country's past and present leaders, he added, referring to former heads of the ruling party.
The Global Times also cited Lian Xiangmin, of the China Tibetology Research Centre in Beijing, as saying that for Chinese people, hanging his picture was the same as displaying Saddam Hussein's image would be for Americans.
The former Iraqi leader was executed in 2006 after being convicted of crimes against humanity, while the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace prize.
The move in Sichuan comes as Beijing steps up a campaign against the spiritual leader, who is still widely revered by Tibetans.
Beijing brands him a dangerous separatist, despite his repeated statements condemning violence, and in Tibet it tightly controls images of him as part of what many Tibetans see as official repression of their religion and culture.
China denies repression of minorities and says its massive investment in Tibet has brought development to a formerly poverty stricken region.
Some Tibetan areas in Sichuan had seen laxer enforcement in recent years, with business owners displaying his portrait in shops.