April 10, 2008

Tibet: Again Monks Brave Chinese Authorities to Protest

Sample ImageTibetans have once again urged China to recognise their rights and reiterated their desire only for greater autonomy within China, not independence.

Below is an article written by Jim Yardley and Jake Hooker and published by the International Herald Tribune:

China suffered another unexpected public relations setback on Wednesday [9 April 2008] when Buddhist monks interrupted a government-managed media tour in western China by waving a Tibetan flag and protesting that the authorities were depriving them of their human rights.

The incident in the city of Xiahe in Gansu Province marked the second time that monks have upstaged government efforts to control foreign media tours of Tibetan areas. Last month, several monks in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, risked official punishment when they made an emotional appeal to foreign journalists inside the Jokhang Monastery.

The outburst on Wednesday [9 April 2008] came as authorities guided reporters through the Labrang Monastery. The tour marked the first officially approved visit to Xiahe by foreign reporters since monks and other Tibetans in the city clashed with the police last month. During the tour, about 15 monks rushed out, waving a Tibetan flag, and approached a group of about 20 Chinese and foreign reporters.

"The Dalai Lama has to come back to Tibet," one monk said, according to Reuters, which was invited on the tour. "We are not asking for Tibetan independence, we are just asking for human rights. We have no human rights now."

Several monks draped their heads in robes, Reuters reported, possibly as an attempt to conceal their identities and avoid later punishment. They also said that local authorities were holding other monks and that armed, plainclothes security officers were posted around the city.

The protest in Xiahe came as Tibet continues to pose a domestic political crisis and international public relations disaster for China. This week, angry anti-China protests disrupted the international Olympic torch relay in London and Paris, while San Francisco prepared for a major confrontation on Wednesday during the only leg of the tour in the United States.

International leaders, including President George W. Bush, have called on China's leaders to meet with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, and begin a dialogue on resolving the Tibetan situation. On Wednesday [9 April 2008], Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia used a speech at Peking University in Beijing to raise human rights concerns about Tibet.

But, as yet, China has shown few signs of softening its tough accusations against the Dalai Lama and continues to blame a "Dalai clique" for the riots and protests that erupted on March 14 [2008] in Lhasa. This week [Week 15, 2008], state media disputed a list of Tibetan victims released by the Tibetan government-in-exile in India, saying that many of the names could not be substantiated.

China's state media are also filled with reports defending China's policies toward Tibet, even as many Tibetans and analysts partly trace the roots of last month's violence to failed government policies.

The press tour of Xiahe was organized by Beijing authorities, who invited only selected media organizations. The government used the same invitation-only strategy during the Lhasa tour, overruling objections from uninvited news organizations in the name of security concerns. The New York Times sought to be included in both tours but was not invited.

In Beijing on Wednesday [9 April 2008], Champa Phuntsok, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region government, continued the campaign against the Dalai Lama, accusing him of telling "lies to instigate antagonism between various ethnic groups and to cheat the international community." At a news conference, Champa Phuntsok also said that the protests in London and Paris proved that the Dalai Lama was not sincere in achieving reconciliation with the Chinese government.

"I believe Tibetans are a good, simple people who know how to be grateful," he said. Champa Phuntsok, himself Tibetan, said seeing images of overseas Tibetan protesters made him ashamed.

Champa Phuntsok told reporters that the monks who protested to foreign reporters last month in Lhasa would not be punished - despite assertions by monks that the government is doing just that.

"We simply do not punish or execute monks for telling a different version," he said. "Of course, their version is untrue."

Meanwhile, Chinese Public Security officials announced that security would be increased for the domestic portion of the torch relay, which begins May 4 [2008] and continues until Aug. 8 [2008], when the flame is scheduled to arrive in Beijing for the Olympic Games opening ceremony. The Ministry of Public Security issued a notice on its Web site calling on all local police departments to "guarantee" security work in order to assure a smooth procession of the torch through China, according to state media reports.