Join our Mailing List

"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."

'It's all lies,' monks shout as China's media tour of Tibet veers off script in Lhasa

March 28, 2008

The Associated Press
Friday, March 28, 2008

EDITOR'S NOTE  Charles Hutzler, Beijing bureau chief for The Associated
Press, was among a group of foreign journalists taken on a
government-arranged trip to the Tibetan city of Lhasa.

By CHARLES HUTZLER
Associated Press Writer

LHASA, China (AP)  The stage-managed tour of Tibet's holiest temple was
going according to the government script. Suddenly, 30 young Buddhist
monks pushed their way in, slammed the door, and began shouting and
crying to the foreign reporters that there is no freedom in the
riot-torn region.

"What the government is saying is not true," a monk shouted as a
wellspring of grievances poured out, first in Tibetan and then in
Chinese after the confused reporters asked them to switch. Finally,
government officials abruptly ended the session and told the journalists
it was "time to go."

The emotional, 15-minute outburst by the red-robed monks decrying their
lack of religious freedom was the only spontaneous moment Thursday in an
otherwise tightly controlled government trip to the Tibetan capital for
foreign reporters following this month's deadly riots.

On the second day of the tour, officials hewed to the government line ?
that the most violent anti-Chinese protests in nearly two decades was
plotted by the exiled Dalai Lama and his supporters. Officials escorted
two dozen reporters to shops, clinics, a school and a jail to interview
victims and rioters, many of them already widely interviewed by state media.

Those who tried to break away from the pack were followed by car and on
foot, making all but the most fleeting of contact with ordinary Tibetans
risky.

Only the monks at the Jokhang Temple, Tibet's holiest site, managed to
upend the official stage-managed event.

As reporters were ushered toward the temple's inner shrine by a senior
monk and administrator, the 30 young monks began shouting to them. The
monks said the believers then in the shrine were fake ? members of
China's ruling Communist Party.

They complained that troops had ringed the monastery and kept it shut
with all 117 monks inside since March 10 ? the day the protests began ?
and that the guards were only removed Wednesday, when foreign
journalists arrived.

The monks, speaking in Tibetan, claimed government officials were trying
to turn Tibetans against them by telling lies. But the monks didn't
elaborate on the alleged lies, according to a translation by Tibetan
scholars in the U.S who listened to an audiotape of the confrontation
made by AP Television News.

"They have destroyed the way we are seen by the people," one monk said.
"We are like prisoners here," said another.

As the monks blurted out a stream of complaints, one cried: "The
government is always telling lies, it's all lies."

"They killed many people. They killed many people," a monk said.

Later, a monk speaking in Chinese said the death toll was far higher
than the government was saying. "The cadres and the army killed more
than 100 Tibetans. They arrested more than a thousand."

"Tibetans have no freedom," a monk said after some of them switched to
Chinese. "We want the Dalai Lama to come back," said another, adding
that they were certain they would be detained when the reporters left.

"They want us to curse the Dalai Lama and that is not right," a monk added.

The government officials then tugged at the journalists to leave and
shouted: "Time to go." The monks filed upstairs.

Hours later, the temple and the large square in front that is usually
thronged with worshippers were closed again by paramilitary police in
helmets and plastic shields.

The three major Buddhist monasteries that ring Lhasa ? Sera, Drepung and
Ganden ? and a fourth, Ramoche, where the March 14 rioting started,
remain sealed off by police. Investigators were gathering evidence
against monks who took part in protests, officials said.

Even as China seeks to show that Lhasa's protests have subsided and
worldwide concern should not affect the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympics, the
government seems to be rejecting appeals for impartial outside observers
and relying on old methods that have inflamed Tibetan anger.

The protests and rioting in Lhasa touched off widespread demonstrations
in Tibetan communities in other parts of Tibet and across western China
? the broadest challenge to Chinese rule since the failed 1959 uprising
that sent the Dalai Lama into exile.

Lhasa remains scarred by the rioting that spread over two days, with at
least 22 people dead by official count. Rows of shops in and near the
old Tibetan quarter were burned-out shells after being torched by
rioters. The unrest has left Tibetans angry and shook the confidence of
many Chinese who migrated to Lhasa for work.

"Ethnic unity? This was an ethnic conflict," said one middle-aged
Tibetan in a shop selling yak butter in the Old City of Lhasa.

The Chinese-owned Yishion clothes shop where five young women burned to
death when rioters set fire to the two-story building has become a
shrine. Yellow flowers and paper funerary wreaths surrounded photos of
the victims.

Li Kunjian and his wife left the central city of Chongqing a year ago
and, with a $17,200 bank loan, set up a small grocery store on the
outskirts of Lhasa ? only to see it burned by more than 100 rampaging
Tibetans.

"We never thought this kind of thing would happen and leave us with
nothing," said Li, now living at a government aid center.

The Dalai Lama said Thursday that he was in touch with "friends" to try
to start a dialogue with Chinese officials.

"I think this is time the Chinese government and Chinese officials, I
think, must accept the reality," he said in New Delhi. "Now in any case
we are (in the) 21st century, pretending or lies cannot work."

In Lhasa, the Chinese-installed vice governor, however, signaled an
uncompromising line toward protesters and the Dalai Lama. He denied the
March 10 protests by monks were connected with the riots four days
later, and he vowed to punish those who took part, saying 414 were in
custody. Only 10 of the 53 most wanted have been detained, however.

But he blamed the unrest on the Dalai Lama and other exile groups such
as the Tibetan Youth Congress, which has challenged the spiritual
leader's policy of nonviolence.

"The Dalai clique has been bent on separating China, and this time this
incident was caused by separatist forces both inside and outside China
acting in collusion," Baima Chilin said at a testy news conference. When
asked for proof, he offered none but said it would be released in time.

As for the monks at Jokhang, Baima Chilin said they had previously been
confined to the monastery because some had taken part in the protests.
But he promised they would not be punished for their outburst.

"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," he said.

State TV, which has widely covered the foreign journalists' tour, showed
the Jokhang visit on its evening newscast, but not the monks' outburst.

Almost none of the business owners and managers the foreign journalists
were taken to interview would say why their establishments were targeted
by rioters. Many of the burned buildings were linked to the government
or run by Chinese or Chinese Muslims, who have dominated commerce.

"We were attacked because we're the Bank of China and we're a sponsor of
this year's Beijing Olympics," said manager Han Hongjun, whose branch
was a charred hulk except for a sign of the Olympic mascots. "Perhaps
they wanted money too."

Many of the interviews raised more questions than they answered. At the
Tibet Emergency Center, where many injured were brought, director Wang
Shoubi said the hospital made no "distinction whether they were
criminals or not." Asked if they treated any rioters, she said, "Up to
now, no."

After the last violent uprising in Lhasa in 1989, Tibetans claimed many
more Tibetans died than the official toll of 16 because families feared
punishment if participants went to hospitals.

Injured troops at the People's Armed Police Tibet Hospital said they
confronted rioters with no weapons, batons or shields, even though the
riot occurred four days after protests began, reinforcing concerns that
commanders bungled the operation.

"The people who attacked me weren't real Tibetans, not ordinary Tibetan
people," said Wang Xinmao, 45, with lines of stitches above his eyes
from where he had been hit with stones. He said an elderly Tibetan woman
saved him, adding: "This shows that the Chinese and Tibetans have no
contradictions."

At a detention center, reporters interviewed Tibetan prisoners as police
stood by and interpreted into Mandarin.

"All my friends were setting fires so I joined them," said 25-year-old
said Luoya, who like many Tibetans uses one name. He was charged with
burning down a motorcycle shop east of Lhasa in an incident widely
reported in Chinese media.
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