Religion: March 2009 Archives
By David Barboza | THE NEW YORK TIMES
March 24, 2009
Nearly 100 people, most of them monks, were being held in a Tibetan area of northwestern China after a crowd attacked a police station there on Saturday, according to the state-controlled media.
The authorities, who said they had restored order in the region, said 6 people were arrested and 89 others had "surrendered" to the police. The attack involved monks from the Ragya Monastery in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Golog in Qinghai Province.
The riot was the latest and biggest skirmish this month between ethnic Tibetans and Chinese authorities and comes as Tibet and adjoining areas face growing tensions amid a series of historically delicate anniversaries.
China's Tibetan region consists largely of Tibet and several bordering provinces that have large Tibetan populations. The police said the unrest broke out Saturday after rumors spread in the region about a man being investigated by the police and then disappearing after he broke Chinese law by advocating Tibetan independence.
China has sent thousands of troops to Tibetan areas in the northwest part of the country to guard against a repeat of the anti-Chinese riots that occurred last March, when Tibetans rioted in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, killing some Han Chinese.
While China is celebrating the 50th anniversary of what it calls the liberation of Tibet from serfdom this March, many Tibetans are calling for independence and marking the date when China took control over the region and forced its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to flee into exile in India.
Much of the region is closed to journalists and independent observers, making it difficult to verify the government reports.
Several journalists who have entered the region have been detained or forced to leave.
In recent weeks, China has released a series of papers on how its rule has created a safer and more prosperous Tibet. Beijing has also repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama of advocating independence for Tibet. He insists he is seeking only autonomy, not secession.
But in Tibetan areas, where there remains a great deal of support for the Dalai Lama, there are frequent reports of small uprisings. Last Monday, a bomb was set off in a government building in a Tibetan part of western China's Sichuan Province. About a week earlier, a police car and a fire truck were damaged by minor explosions in a Tibetan part of Qinghai.
Last week, the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India, released a seven-minute video, which is being shown on YouTube*), that purports to show Chinese police officers brutally beating Tibetans last March following the riots in Lhasa. There has been no independent confirmation that the footage is authentic.
*) TAC: blocked by the Government of Communist China
THE NEW YORK TIMES
By Edward Wong
Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting from Beijing, and Hari Kumar from New Delhi
March 10, 2009
The Dalai Lama delivered on Tuesday one of his harshest attacks on the Chinese government in recent times, saying that the Chinese Communist Party had transformed Tibet into a "hell on earth" and that the Chinese authorities regard Tibetans as "criminals deserving to be put to death."
"Today, the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction," said the Dalai Lama, 73, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans.
Those words came during a blistering speech made Tuesday morning in Dharamsala, India, the Himalayan hill town that is the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Tibetans outside of China and their supporters held rallies around the world on Tuesday to mark the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. The Chinese military crushed the rebellion, forcing the Dalai Lama to flee across the Himalayas to India.
The furious tone of the Dalai Lama's speech may have been in reaction to a new clampdown by China on the Tibetan regions. The Dalai Lama might also have adopted an angry approach to placate younger Tibetans who have accused the Dalai Lama of being too conciliatory toward China. The Dalai Lama advocates genuine autonomy for Tibet and not secession, while more radical Tibetans are urging the Dalai Lama to support outright independence.
In the rugged Tibetan regions of China, where there is widespread resentment at Chinese rule, no reports emerged on Tuesday of any large-scale protests. The Chinese government, fearing civil unrest among six million Tibetans, has locked down the vast area, which measures up to a quarter of China, by sending in thousands of troops in the last few weeks and cutting off cell phone and Internet services in some locations. An unofficial state of martial law now exists, with soldiers and police officers operating checkpoints, marching through streets and checking people for identification cards.
Chinese President Hu Jintao called this week for the building of a "Great Wall" of stability in Tibet.
"We must reinforce the solid Great Wall for combating separatism and safeguarding national unity, so that Tibet, now basically stable, will enjoy lasting peace and stability," Mr. Hu said while meeting with Tibetan officials in Beijing on Monday, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.
Across Tibet, monks at large monasteries have been ordered to stay indoors. In the town of Tongren in Qinghai Province, monks at the sprawling Rongwo Monastery, where protests erupted last year, have been told they cannot leave the compound from March 6 to March 16, according to two monks reached by telephone. No classes or prayer gatherings were held on Tuesday. One monk said he and his peers were reading Buddhist scriptures in their bedrooms.
"This morning, I cried," he said.
The monk declined to give his name for fear of government retribution. A year ago this month, he was studying in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and taking part in protests to mark the 49th anniversary of the failed uprising. When security forces suppressed those protests, Tibetans began rioting in the streets, attacking ethnic Han Chinese civilians and burning shops and vehicles.
The uprising quickly spread to Tibetan areas in other provinces, becoming the largest rebellion against Chinese rule in decades. At least 19 people were killed in Lhasa, most of them Han Chinese civilians, according to the Chinese government. In the violent repression that followed, 220 Tibetans were killed, nearly 1,300 were injured and nearly 7,000 were detained or imprisoned, according to the Tibetan government-in-exile. More than 1,000 Tibetans are still missing.
"There has been a brutal crackdown on the Tibetan protests that have shaken the whole of Tibet since last March," the Dalai Lama said in his speech.
In a report released Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said that a careful study of official Chinese accounts of last year's uprising and its aftermath showed that "there have been thousands of arbitrary arrests, and more than 100 trials pushed through the judicial system." The government's official figures on arrests and prosecutions suggest that several hundred suspected protestors remain in custody, Human Rights Watch said.
By Edward Wong | THE NEW YORK TIMES
March 05, 2009
Enraged nomads stormed through this windswept town on the Tibetan plateau a year ago this month, raiding a police compound, setting fire to squad cars and forcing police officers to flee. To the north, Tibetans on horseback galloped into a schoolyard, ripped down a Chinese flag and hoisted a Tibetan one, shouting "Free Tibet!"
Now, the authorities have imposed an unofficial state of martial law on the vast highlands where ethnic Tibetans live, with thousands of troops occupying areas they fear could erupt in renewed rioting on a momentous anniversary next week. And Beijing is determined to keep foreigners from seeing the mass deployment.
In monasteries and nomad tents, villages and grasslands, the fury of Tibetans against Chinese rule has raged continuously since last year's riots and the violent repression that followed. They are aware, too, that March 10 marks the 50th anniversary of a failed revolt against Chinese rule that led to the Dalai Lama's flight into exile in India.
Signs of simmering resistance abound: Just last week, many of China's six million Tibetans chose not to celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year, in order to mourn Tibetans who suffered during last year's clashes. Monks have held rallies in parts of Qinghai and Sichuan Provinces. Last Friday, a monk from Kirti Monastery in Sichuan lighted himself on fire in a market, prompting security officers to shoot at him, according to Tibetan advocacy groups. Local officials deny the shooting.
Chinese leaders have prepared for the worst, ordering the largest troop deployment since the Sichuan earthquake last spring. This reporter got a rare look at the clampdown because he was recently driven through the Tibetan areas of arid Gansu Province while being detained by the police for 20 hours.
Tibetan regions, a lightly populated swath of western China that measures up to one-quarter of the country's total territory, have become militarized zones. Sandbag outposts have been set up in the middle of towns, army convoys rumble along highways, and paramilitary officers search civilian cars. A curfew has been imposed on Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.
"The Tibetan ethnic situation is very serious," said a paramilitary officer after he stopped three foreigners on a snowy mountain road. "Tibetans are causing trouble. This is an extremely sensitive time."
The young officer and his half-dozen colleagues at the checkpoint were members of the People's Armed Police, the main Chinese paramilitary force. The officers said their unit was based in Beijing and had guarded the Bird's Nest stadium during the Summer Olympics in August, but had been sent here last month. Their mission included keeping foreigners out of the area.
Foreigners do not need special permission to travel in this region, and the police never offered an explanation for detaining this reporter.
The broad security measures undercut assertions by the Chinese government that serious ethnic tensions do not exist and that Tibetan nationalism is not widespread. They also show that Tibet remains one of the most sensitive political and security issues for China, though one that remains invisible in the developed cities along the country's east coast.
Last March, the largest Tibetan uprising against Communist rule in decades erupted after Chinese security forces suppressed a protest by monks in Lhasa. At least 19 people were killed in ethnic rioting in Lhasa, most of them Han civilians, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. In the ensuing crackdown, 220 Tibetans were killed, nearly 1,300 were injured and nearly 7,000 were detained or imprisoned, according to the Tibetan government in exile, which is based in Dharamsala, India.
The Chinese government accused the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, of fomenting the violence. The Dalai Lama advocates Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule, but disavows violence and says he does not favor secession.
Some of the worst rioting outside Lhasa took place here in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, where the worlds of the Tibetans, Chinese and Hui Muslims converge. It is a dry area of herders roaming the plains and white-walled monasteries nestled against brown hillsides. At least 94 people -- almost all police officers -- were injured here last March, according to official news reports.
The most prominent monastery in eastern Tibet, Labrang, lies in the town of Xiahe, in western Gannan. There, more than 1,000 monks and lay people protested for two days and attacked government buildings last March.
There are no signs of protests now, residents say, because the town is completely locked down. Recent photographs taken in Xiahe show riot police officers marching in the streets.
"The security forces are everywhere, on every corner, day and night," said a Tibetan woman reached by telephone. "Don't come here."
She paused when asked her opinion about the current situation. "We Tibetans who do business, we're under a lot of pressure," she said. "We have to keep quiet. I can't say I disagree with the policies of the Chinese. It's their country, and we're only a minority."
Like others interviewed for this article, she declined to give her name for fear of government reprisal.
This reporter and two foreign companions entered southern Gannan by driving past several unstaffed checkpoints on a recent night before being stopped on a mountain road by the paramilitary officers. The foreigners and their driver were brought to the towns of Maqu and Hezuo for interrogation and then forced to drive to the provincial capital, Lanzhou, to board a plane for Beijing.
A police officer in Maqu said rioters burned 18 patrol cars last year. The police headquarters now has a new fleet of white sport utility vehicles. Official reports say more than 70 percent of shops here were looted or damaged, but those, too, appear to have been restored.
During the day, policemen or soldiers stand on street corners wearing helmets and green coats and carrying riot shields. The main road leading through town is watched by officers armed with assault rifles standing at checkpoints. The sound of troops' drilling can be heard in the early morning hours -- louder than any chanting from monks.
"We're afraid that Tibetans who've returned from Dharamsala might cause trouble," a police officer said.
Farther north, in Hezuo, the seat of Gannan Prefecture, the signs of tension were just as clear. In the town's main traffic circle, the authorities had set up a circular sandbag emplacement overseen by a half-dozen officers, resembling a scene in a war zone. It was just south of Hezuo where nomads on horses and thousands of others rampaged through a schoolyard last year.
But local officials deny there is any hostility.
"There's no ethnic conflict here," Cairang Dao'erqu, a Tibetan official at the foreign affairs bureau who goes by his Chinese name, said over lunch during this reporter's detention. "Look in the streets -- everything is peaceful here. The Chinese, Tibetan and Hui people all get along."
Tibetans say they have no idea what might take place on March 10, the momentous anniversary of the failed uprising in 1959. Last week, the Dalai Lama urged Tibetans not to be provoked by the Chinese, saying any radical moves would give the Chinese government an excuse to take harsher steps.
"It is difficult to achieve a meaningful outcome," he said, "by sacrificing lives."
Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting.