Thursday, March 27, 2008
Monks protest in Lhasa during press tour of China
A Tibetan monk, center, spoke to foreign journalists at the Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet, during a tour arranged Thursday by Chinese officials.
March 28, 2008
Monks Protest During Press Tour of China
By DAVID BARBOZA
SHANGHAI — Weeping and yelling, “Tibet is not free,” a group of red-robed monks on Thursday disrupted a carefully scripted tour for foreign journalists in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, as Chinese officials tried to portray the recent Tibetan riots as the work of thugs and separatists.
The 15-minute protest by about 30 monks, who spoke first in Tibetan and then switched to Mandarin, was in the Jokhang Monastery, one of Tibet’s holiest shrines. The protest, videotaped by reporters, ended after government handlers shouted for the journalists to leave and tried to pull them away, an Associated Press correspondent on the tour said in an interview.
The protest erupted during a tour of the temple. Some of the monks shouted that there was no religious freedom in Tibet and that the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile, had been wrongly accused by China of orchestrating the protests to disrupt the Olympic Games, to be held in Beijing in August. Some journalists said one monk complained that the government had planted fake monks in the monastery to talk to the reporters.
It was unclear whether the protesting monks were arrested. The government later said that the monks had lied but would not be punished.
The protest was another embarrassment for senior Chinese officials, who allowed the handpicked group of journalists to visit Lhasa under escort to promote the government’s version of the unrest in Tibet, which China calls an autonomous region.
Reporters were also shown a detention center that housed some of the rioters, The Associated Press reported. Interviews were closely monitored; the police interpreted for Tibetan prisoners, who spoke little Mandarin.
Luoya, who like many Tibetans uses just one name, said he had burned down a motorcycle shop in Dazhi County, east of Lhasa. “All my friends were setting fires so I joined them,” he was quoted as saying. Reporters spoke to Mr. Luoya, 25, through the bars of his cell as a policeman stood by.
When asked about relations between Tibetans and Chinese in Lhasa, Mr. Luoya said, “There are no relations.”
Foreign coverage and reaction of the violence in Tibet have focused on China’s heavy crackdown and arrests in the aftermath of the riots and have led to talk among some foreign officials of boycotting the opening ceremony of this summer’s Olympic Games. The Chinese wanted the reporters to see damage caused by the rioters and to interview Han Chinese victims of the violence, the worst here in 20 years.
China’s official news agency, Xinhua, mentioned the unscripted monks’ protest in a brief dispatch, saying 12 monks “stormed into a briefing by a temple administrator to cause chaos.”
Several American news organizations were invited to send representatives on the three-day press tour, but The New York Times was not.
The protest came a day after President Bush encouraged President Hu Jintao of China in a telephone discussion to initiate talks with the Dalai Lama, who is based in India.
China’s state-run media said that Mr. Hu responded that China had always been open to discussions with the Dalai Lama, as long as he renounced independence for Tibet and abandoned efforts to “fan and mastermind violent crimes.”
There was also pressure on Thursday from an international group of distinguished scholars, who wrote an open letter to Mr. Hu calling on China to “take steps to end the harsh repression” in Tibet.
The scholars, who specialize in Tibetan studies, also said the “tactic of blaming the unrest on the Dalai Lama masks a refusal, on the part of the Chinese government, to recognize the failures of its own policies.”
For nearly a week, the state-controlled media have contended that some Western news organizations have wrongly described the riots in Tibet as “peaceful protests” and that some photographs distorted the government’s actions in Tibet.
China’s state-controlled media, though, have been allowed to publish only favorable articles on the government’s role in Tibet. At the same time, some foreign journalists in China have complained about efforts to impede or disrupt their reporting, despite the government’s pledges of greater openness in the months leading up to the Olympics.
On Thursday, The Associated Press reported that after the protest at the Lhasa temple, the area was sealed off. Later in the day, journalists seeking to report independently, away from government guides, were followed, making Tibetans reluctant to talk.
Chen Yang contributed research.