Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Jokhang monks' peaceful protest changes course of Beijing propaganda offensive

March 28, 2008

ICT report, March 27, 2008

There are serious fears for the welfare and whereabouts of a group of
monks at the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa who spoke out to
journalists on a tightly controlled media trip to Tibet today. Images of
the young monks gathering around press and calling for Tibetan freedom
and in support of the Dalai Lama, with one monk breaking down in tears,
were broadcast all over the world today on international networks.
Chinese officials assured press afterwards that they would not be
punished for their 'outburst'. The monks' peaceful protest shattered the
authorities' plans to convey an image that the situation in Lhasa was
under control after recent demonstrations and rioting, which Beijing
says was instigated by the Dalai Lama.

The three major monasteries in Lhasa, Ganden, Sera, and Drepung,
remained under lockdown today and journalists on the official trip were
not allowed to visit, despite repeated requests. The Ramoche temple in
central Lhasa was also closed to the press group and after the Jokhang
protest, the area was also closed to outside observers. Reliable reports
from the city indicate that the water has been cut off at Ganden, Sera
and Drepung, and monks are running out of food. Sources said that local
people are not allowed to take food in for the monks, and one Tibetan
source said that monks who tried to leave Sera were forced to go back
after they had guns pointed to their heads.

Further reports reached ICT over the past few days of mass arrests of
Tibetans in Lhasa, including in particular Tibetans from the Kham and
Amdo areas of Tibet; Tibetans known to have studied in exile in India,
base of the Dalai Lama, and former political prisoners. Some sources
said that during house to house searches, Tibetans had been taken away
at gunpoint. In scenes reminiscent to some observers of the Cultural
Revolution, officials are searching for images of the Dalai Lama as well
as taking Tibetans away. One source close to the monastic community in
Lhasa expressed their fears for Tibetans in custody, saying that they
had been told by two Tibetans released from temporary detention that
Tibetans in custody were "beaten terribly", and that none had enough
water or food.

As the crackdown continues, other sources have reported seeing large
numbers of Tibetans being herded into trucks, and in one instance,
forced to board a train from Lhasa station and removed from the city. A
Tibetan source, who is in exile but in close contact with Tibetans
inside, reported hearing from an eyewitness that a group of several
hundred Tibetans, escorted by armed security personnel, had boarded a
train at Lhasa's new railway station. The source told ICT, "The
eyewitness reported seeing large numbers of monks in the group, and said
that many were not wearing shoes. The reports of the removal of
prisoners from Lhasa are chilling for many older Tibetans, who remember
the purges after 1959 and beyond when so many Tibetans were taken to
labor camps and prisons in Gansu and Qinghai. Some of them were never
heard of again. There are many families now in the situation of not
knowing where their relatives are, or how long they will be in prison."

The journalists from international agencies who arrived in Lhasa this
morning on a highly controlled press trip organized by the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs in Beijing questioned Chinese officials tonight at an
hour and a half long press conference about the Jokhang monks who had
carried out the protests. Charles Hutzler of Associated Press reported
Tibet Autonomous Region Vice Governor Baima Chilin [a Chinese
transliteration of a Tibetan name] telling reporters: "We will never do
anything to them. We will never detain anyone you met on the streets of
Lhasa. I don't think any government would do such a thing." (Associated
Press, March 27, 2008). The journalists also called upon the Chinese
officials to provide evidence that the Dalai Lama had "instigated" the
protests, as Beijing claims.

The Jokhang monks who protested today made the point that what has
happened in Lhasa "has nothing to do with the Dalai Lama", according
to journalists who witnessed the protest. During the protest, which
lasted approximately 17 minutes, one monk said: "They want us to curse
the Dalai Lama and that is not right." One monk is shown on camera
bursting into tears during the protest. Others told the journalists that
they knew that they would be arrested but were prepared to face the
consequences.

Sources who have recently left Lhasa told ICT that many Tibetans are
distressed by Chinese allegations that the Dalai Lama instigated
violence. "They don't believe it," said one Western source who has
spoken to many Tibetans in Lhasa over the past two weeks. "For them, the
distinction between the Dalai Lama as a spiritual or a political leader
made in the West matters little. For them, he is their leader, full
stop." The same source said that searches are being made house to house
by soldiers and armed police in every Tibetan neighborhood. "Often
Tibetans are taken away in the middle of the night," the source told ICT
after leaving Lhasa. "They are definitely taking people who they know
have studied in India, including those who learnt English at exile
schools. I saw truckloads of Tibetans being taken away. Friends watched
guns being held to the head of Tibetans who were taken into custody."

This source, and others, referred to Tibetan distress too about some
Tibetans resorting to violence against Chinese people and property after
rioting broke out on the streets of Lhasa on March 14. A well-informed
source from Lhasa commented by email to ICT on the reporting of violence
by Tibetans against Chinese that has dominated the Chinese state media,
saying: "Sadly, there is plenty of proof of Tibetan-instigated violence
in Lhasa.  This is so very sad for Tibetan people but shows just how
desperate we are. Some stupid people could not see any other
alternative. There is no doubt that Tibetan murderers and attackers
should be punished under the law, but the hundreds and likely thousands
of innocent Tibetans who are now being arrested should not be treated in
the same way."

There is evidence that the authorities are also attempting to prevent
Tibetans expressing their views in the West through intimidation of
their families in Tibet. According to a reliable report from a Tibetan
exile, families in some areas of the Tibetan region of Amdo who have
relatives and children living in exile have been warned in recent days
that they will face repercussions if these Tibetans participate in
peaceful demonstrations outside China.

Various reports indicated that the conditions in Lhasa today were
slightly less restricted earlier today immediately prior to the arrival
of the foreign media. The website of one business in Lhasa reported: "We
couldn't see any more patrolling along the Beijing East Road since
yesterday, what a fresh change! About four hours ago, it's almost 9.30
pm but there are still many people walking around, much better than the
lonely spirit in the past few days". (Website of the Spinn café).

China's state media has reported that 280 people "turned themselves in"
to police in Tibet's capital, while another 381 surrendered in southwest
Sichuan province. Beijing also made the first known official
acknowledgment of arrest for peaceful protest two days ago with a
reference in Tibet Daily on March 25 of the detention of Tibetans in
Lhasa for chanting "reactionary" slogans and displaying the Tibetan
flag. In contrast, official statements in the past few days on
detentions have described the offences as linked to burning, looting or
acts of violence.

One of the foreign correspondents on the press trip commented today:
"Everything we've been shown is isolated to fit a narrative that [the
Chinese authorities] have constructed. We all came in here with our eyes
open. We know there's an attempt to use us to convey a particular
representation." Western media reports today from Lhasa, however,
focused solely on the protest of the monks and their comments in defence
of the Dalai Lama and against religious repression.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank