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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Missing: monks who defied Beijing

March 26, 2008

By Nigel Morris
The Independent (UK)
March 25, 2008

They were the 15 youthful Tibetan monks – three still in their teens –
who sparked a rebellion by daring to speak out against China's
repression of their homeland.

The group paraded peacefully down Barkhor Street in Lhasa old town on 10
March handing out leaflets, chanting pro-independence slogans and
carrying the banned Tibetan flag. Their demand was that the Chinese
government that has ruled Tibet since 1951 should ease a "patriotic
re-education" campaign which forced them to denounce the Dalai Lama and
subjected them to government propaganda.

The reaction of the authorities, desperate to snuff out the most serious
uprising against Chinese rule for almost half a century, was rapid and
brutal. The group was detained on the spot, with eyewitnesses reporting
that several of the monks suffered severe beatings as they were arrested
and taken away. They have not been seen since.

Amnesty International called last night for their immediate release,
along with all the other anti-Chinese demonstrators picked up in the
past three weeks. The human rights organisation said they were at "high
risk of torture and other ill treatment" and called on supporters to
write to Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, with copies to the Chinese
embassy in London.

Steve Ballinger, a UK spokesman for Amnesty, said: "China's reaction to
peaceful protests in Tibet and neighbouring provinces – detaining
demonstrators, flooding the area with troops and reportedly using
violence – does not bode well for the Olympics. Some protests may have
turned violent and the Chinese authorities have a responsibility to
protect the lives and property of people in the region. But locking up
peaceful protesters and locking out journalists is totally unacceptable.
These monks must be released immediately and all those detained in
recent weeks must be accounted for. If basic human rights are not
respected, China's promises to clean up its act ahead of the Olympics
will seem very hollow indeed."

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), which
operates in exile from India, expressed its "deepest fear" that monks
face "extreme inhumane treatment" in Chinese detention centres. It said:
"Torture is a regular exercise in Chinese-administered prisons and
detention centres in Tibet."

The plight of the monks was being seen as a key symbolic test for the
Chinese government as it tries to bring calm to the country before this
summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. Yesterday the Olympic flame was lit
in Greece and began a global journey to the Olympic stadium in Beijing.
But its progress risks being overshadowed by protests if China continues
apparently to ignore the human rights of those who protest against it.

The monk's march – on the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against
Chinese rule – was among the first in Lhasa. Amid the chaos, police
ordered traders in the market to go home and soldiers were drafted in.
The action was futile as protests began in other monasteries in support
of the 15 monks and lay people began marching in support of Tibetan rights.

The monks – who were visiting Lhasa's Sera monastery – have not been
seen since their arrest. Nothing is known of their condition or whereabouts.

With the province "locked down" by the police and army, and all foreign
journalists and observers forbidden from travelling to Tibet, there is
little firm information about the extent of the uprising. But
unconfirmed reports suggest there have been more than 1,000 arrests in
the province and about 100 deaths in clashes between Tibetans and the
authorities.

Many other groups of monks have taken to the streets complaining that
the authorities were increasingly restricting their religious freedoms.
They were soon joined by groups of civilians protesting that their
Tibetan identity was being eroded by a deliberately policy of flooding
the area with the minority Han Chinese ethnic group.

The protests erupted into rioting four days later which Tibet's exiled
government said claimed 80 lives.

Beijing appears to have quelled the unrest for the moment by sending
troops to Tibet and the provinces of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan. But
pressure is mounting on China to begin talks with the Dalai Lama, whom
it has blamed for inciting the unrest. A group of 29 Chinese dissidents
have signed an open letter calling for talks with Tibet's spiritual
leader and demanding a UN investigation into the situation. Support is
also growing for a boycott of the Olympics if Beijing persists in its
brutal treatment of dissent.
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