Copyright The south China Morning Post
Mar 28, 2008
Weeping and shouting, Tibetan monks interrupted a government tour of Lhasa for foreign media yesterday – showing grievances persist in the Tibetan capital despite the apparent restoration of calm following the worst unrest there in nearly 20 years.
The journalists, the first from Hong Kong and overseas media allowed to visit Tibet since reporters were barred last week, had been scheduled to meet victims of the riots and see some of the damage to property, apparently to show how bad the Tibetans’ protests had been.
But government officials bowed to the journalists’ repeated requests to visit the Jokhang Monastery, one of the most important centres of religious life in the Buddhist region.
A temple official, Ngawang Choedra, began the tour by briefing journalists on the history of the monastery and repeated the official line about the riots, then went on to show reporters around one of the monastery’s sanctuaries.
Suddenly, a group of about 30 young monks in red robes rushed to the door of the sanctuary and began shouting in Tibetan. Some wept. After about five minutes they were able to contain their emotions enough to switch to Putonghua and tell of their grievances.
Authorities say 19 people were killed in the city, most burned to death when rioters set fire to shops owned by Han Chinese migrants on March 14 and 15.
The Tibetan government-in-exile headed by the Dalai Lama claimed this week it had confirmed 135 deaths in Tibet.
The young monks said 117 of their number had been locked in their dormitories since March 10, but that authorities had accused them of involvement in the March 14 riots.
“We did not go out since March 10 so how could we get involved in the smashing, beating and looting?” said one tearful monk, who requested not to be named for fear of reprisals.
Another young monk with a picture of the Dalai Lama around his neck, said: “The monastery has been locked. It is the first time that people could enter. We don’t have freedom.”
Asked what they were fighting for, several shouted: “Freedom.”
They said about 400 monks had been detained by the government and 1,000 Tibetans arrested. The monks demanded the detainees’ release.
Their figures were countered by Pelma Chiley, vice-chairman of the Tibetan government. He said the government had detained 414 people, but would not say how many of them were monks. Thirty had been charged with crimes so far.
The young monks said they wanted the authorities to talk to the Dalai Lama but denied their actions were incited by the exiled spiritual leader.
“We are in our twenties and we have not seen the Dalai Lama in our lives. How can they say the Dalai Lama has been telling us what to do?”
They added: “We want peace for Tibet.”
The central government has accused the “Dalai clique” of masterminding the disturbances, timed to coincide with the anniversary of the uprising in Tibet in 1959 which led the spiritual leader to flee into exile in India.
Asked what made the rioters so angry, the monks said: “The Tibetans are not happy.” Some shouted: “We want the Dalai Lama to come back.”
Pelma Chiley confirmed that monks from the Sera, Ganden and Drepung monasteries had been detained to “help the police collect evidence about the riots” since “a handful of unlawful monks have taken part in the riots”.
Dorji Tsedrup, Lhasa’s mayor, said the monks were emotionally unstable and they might affect the stability of the city if released.
But he denied reports that electricity and food supplies to the monasteries had been cut off.
The Jokhang Monastery was sealed off by paramilitary officers in the afternoon, witnesses said.
The monks who took the risk to talk to reporters said they expected reprisals. Pelma Chiley was asked whether they would be punished.
“No government would do such things,” he replied.
Josephine Ma – The South China Morning Post
Copyright The south China Morning Post