Join our Mailing List

"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Tibetan normality hides tension

August 8, 2008

By Calum MacLeod
USA Today
August 5, 2008

BEIJING -- The five Olympic rings, made out of flowers, stand near
the Potala Palace -- the Dalai Lama's old residence -- in the Tibetan
capital of Lhasa.

Nearby a giant slogan reads, "The united nationalities welcome the
Olympic Games with one heart," according to photos on government
websites. Tourism is recovering since the deadly riots in March,
China's tourism bureau says, and Tibetan television shows Lhasa
residents snapping up Olympic souvenirs.

Yet Lhasa's apparent calm hides a city of fear, say Tibetan exile
groups and researchers. They claim several hundred Tibetans remain in
detention and thousands of others are undergoing "patriotic
education" campaigns to denounce the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual
leader revered by most Tibetans.

In distant Beijing, where the Olympic Games begin Friday, suspicions
against Tibetans have cost several people their jobs and forced them
out of the nation's capital, says poet Woeser, a leading Tibetan
dissident who like many Tibetans uses one name.

The riots March 14 in the Himalayan region left 22 dead, according to
the official Chinese count, and scores more died after the crackdown
by police. The issue of Chinese treatment of the region sparked
fierce protests during the Olympic torch relay in Europe and
elsewhere and turned the spotlight on the Olympics host.

"Life in Lhasa is now normal, and we even managed to hold the Olympic
torch relay," says Baima Chilin, vice chairman of China's Tibet government.

Yet getting a real picture of life in Tibet remains tough.
Journalists and independent observers are not permitted to freely
travel there. Tibet exists "under a cloud of uncertainty, it's in a
shadow world where we don't know what's going on," says Robbie
Barnett, an expert on Tibet at Columbia University.

Normal life "on the surface is picking up in terms of business and
institutions, even though there are very few tourists," says Barnett,
who regularly talks to people in Tibet. "But from information leaking
out very slowly, there is a significant number of people who have
disappeared or are in prison."

Restrictions on movement and communication have tightened in recent
weeks, says Tashi Choephel, a researcher at the Tibetan Center for
Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala, India, which is home to the
Dalai Lama's government-in-exile.

"Repression is getting worse, everything is locked up because of the
Olympic Games," he says.

The center estimates that 6,500 Tibetans were detained after the
riots in March, about 60 have been sentenced and up to 2,000 may
remain in custody. Verifying reports is difficult because of
increased surveillance of telephone calls, Choephel says.

Clampdown

China's ruling Communist Party has reinvigorated its "patriotic
education" campaign, Choephel says, "in monasteries … villages and
even school students." He worries that after the Olympics, the
government will impose death penalties or life sentences on Tibetans
still detained.

The International Campaign for Tibet, a Washington-based activist
group, issued a report Tuesday, saying, "China has dramatically
tightened security in Tibet and announced new 'anti-terror' plans"
during the Olympics.

One Tibetan willing to talk is Tashi Tsering, 79, a passionate
advocate for the Tibetan language and a sponsor of rural education
programs. "Life is almost back to normal. On the whole, it is much
better than before," he says.

His wife, who sells barley wine known as Chang to visitors near
Lhasa's holiest temple, the Jokhang, recently resumed her business.
"It is much more normal than it used to be. I hope it will continue,"
Tsering says.

When the Olympic torch briefly appeared in Lhasa on June 21, the
streets were cleared, and only invited guests were allowed to watch
the guarded procession.

"Myself and family members were kept inside," Tsering says, though
his enthusiasm remains for the Games, and he looks forward to
watching them on TV.

The Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese government accuses of masterminding
the riots in March, has maintained his "support for the right of
China to host the Games," says Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the
government-in-exile in Dharamsala. "We firmly hope the Olympic spirit
will trickle down and let the Chinese authorities view the issue of
Tibet in a more sympathetic light," Samphel says.

Foreigners were banned from Lhasa after the riots, but tourist
numbers are improving, China's deputy head of tourism Du Jiang said
Tuesday -- though not enough to tempt travel agent Tian Yuchen to return.

Retaliation

"People say life is getting back to normal, but there are very few
tourists now," Tian says.

Tian was among many Han Chinese, China's majority ethnic group, who
flocked to Tibet in recent years, helping build the economy but also
stoking antagonism among some residents.

Tibet scholar Barnett worries that the Chinese public increasingly
consider most Tibetans troublemakers. The Chinese government has said
pro-independence Tibetans are a potential threat to the Olympics,
along with Muslim separatists in northwest Xijiang province, where 16
policemen were killed Monday in Kashgar.

Woeser, the outspoken Tibetan poet and blogger whose works are banned
in China, says she recently left her Beijing home. Other Tibetans in
the Chinese capital have also left, she says, and not by choice.

"Several of my Tibetan friends in Beijing have been fired in the last
three months, as local police put pressure on their employers," she says.

Woeser, who is suing a Chinese court after trying for five years to
get a passport to travel overseas, says, "The government made many
promises of expanding human rights. I had hopes (the Olympics) would
change things."
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