An Inconvenient Protest, and More Details of Riots in Lhasa, Tibet

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

In the midst of China’s carefully stage-managed PR tour with select western journalists, a small group of Tibetan monks seizes the moment:

The outburst by a group of 30 monks in red robes came as the journalists, including an Associated Press reporter, were being shown around the Jokhang Temple – one of Tibet’s holiest shrines – by government handlers in Lhasa.

“Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!” yelled one young Buddhist monk, who started to cry.


“They want us to crush the Dalai Lama and that is not right,” one monk said during the 15-minute outburst.

“This had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama,” said another.


The AP also reports that the monks knew the Chinese authorities would punish them for their actions but were willing to accept those consequences.

Another interesting revelation from the monks who spoke to the Associated Press:

They said troops who had been guarding the temple since March 14 were removed the night before the visit by the reporters. One monk said they were upset by what he said were some monks planted in the monastery to talk to the journalists, calling them “not true believers but … Communist Party members.”

“They are all officials, they (the government) arranged for them to come in. And we aren’t allowed to go out because they say we could destroy things but we never did anything,” another monk said.

The Washington Post attempts to analyze more of what happened on the day of the riots in Lhasa:

Interviews with nine eyewitnesses, some of whom spoke only on condition of anonymity, confirm that tensions began building in Lhasa on Monday, March 10. That’s when police blocked monks from Drepung Monastery, a few miles outside Lhasa, from marching into the city to mark the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising that sent the Dalai Lama into exile.

When protesters shouted Tibetan independence slogans and unfurled a homemade Tibetan flag, they were quickly hustled away by police, who detained at least 15 people. The police response was fairly typical for such protests — public dissent against Chinese rule is not allowed — but this time the incidents were not quickly snuffed out.

Rather, rumors began circulating among Tibetans that some monks had been beaten. “A lot of Tibetans on Monday night were distraught by the arrest of the monks,” said Chris Johnson, a novelist who was in Lhasa on a two-week vacation.

On that Tuesday, police stopped another protest march, this one by monks from nearby Sera Monastery. By Wednesday, tourists said, the roads to the monasteries outside town had been blocked by police vehicles. One tour agent said he was told to tell his clients that “the monasteries were closed for renovation.”


And probably the most interesting account comes from the owner of a local hostel, who was watching the riots progress from where he was standing on the roof of his building:

Then, about 3 p.m., he heard a “strange, high-pitched sound.” He looked down to see a gang of 30 to 40 people swing into his street, howling. He was surprised to see that most in the mob were young women, who had masks over their mouths and were wearing backpacks. “They were attacking even more fiercely than the boys,” he said.

The mob began kicking down doors and wrenching open shops, including the offices of the state-run Tibet Daily newspaper and the local bureau of the official New China News Agency. Zhang saw a man in his 30s shouting into a megaphone and a woman nearby, pointing. They appeared to be directing the mob where to attack, he said.


Zhang’s street remained quiet the next day. A few riot police officers appeared and positioned themselves in front of the news bureaus. Zhang said the police ordered him and his guests to stay inside. They did, discussing Friday’s chaos and swapping stories of rioters they felt certain could not have been local Tibetans; many of the guests said they had heard different dialects. They questioned how the government could have allowed the city to get so out of control.

There’s enough fodder for any conspiracy theory.

I’m sure any good soldier in the Chinese government’s PR office would point to that statement as prima facie evidence that the “the Dalai Lama clique” was responsible for these riots. Outside agitators = Dalai Lama.

However, one could just as easily bolster many competing conspiracy theories, not the least of which is that the Chinese government, in an attempt to discredit the Dalai Lama, decided to allow the riots to escalate and turn violent so they could then justify a harsh crack-down of a traditional trouble spot.

The truth of what happened and why may be completely different from any proposed conspiracy theories floating around.

That’s why it is vitally important that an independent commission, similar to the Christopher Commission in Los Angeles, be established to take an unbiased look at the evidence, investigate the facts and get to the bottom of what occurred. I have little faith of that happening with a government like the one in China has shown itself to be: fearful, paranoid and adamently opposed to any outside investigation of what at least remains a failure of local officials to manage this explosive situation.

But one can always hope.

Please keep all sides of this conflict in your thoughts, prayers and meditations.

And consider this: to show solidarity with the Dalai Lama’s calls for dialogue and a peaceful resolution to this conflict, consider wearing a saffron-colored arm band. Saffron is the color of the robes the Tibetan monks wear. (H/T to OklahomaVoter for this simple, cost-effective idea).


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    • OPOL on March 27, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    and thank you for doing it.

    Free Tibet!

  1. Today’s report that there are 660 people admittedly incarcerated puts this in some perspective: it’s a huge, important story.

    Free Tibet.  

  2. Many legislators are quite sympathetic to Tibet and will likely pass a resolution you get someone to introduce. Congress will be taking a look at possible actions when they get back to DC, so be sure to contact your Congressperson and Senators.

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