A group of Tibetan monks disrupted a tour by foreign reporters to Lhasa Thursday, complaining that there is no religious freedom and that the Dalai Lama is not to blame for recent violence.
About 30 monks surged into a carefully stage-managed visit to the sacred Jokang Temple in Lhasa by foreign reporters. They yelled “Tibet is not free. Tibet is not free.”
They also said their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, had nothing to do with recent anti-government riots by Tibetans in Lhasa, where buildings were torched and ethnic Han Chinese were attacked. Government handlers tried to pull the journalists away when the monks protested.
The government has said the March 14 riots were supported by “the Dalai clique.”
With the exception of Thursday’s disruption, the first group of foreign journalists allowed into the Tibetan capital since soon after the riots has been given a carefully monitored glimpse of a city divided.
On Wednesday, the first day of the visit, police presence was visible but not overbearing in the newly built up and heavily Chinese portions of Lhasa, teams of security forces stood in the lanes near the Jokhang Temple.
Two Tibetan teachers drinking in a nearby bar said they were enjoying a first night out after nighttime curfews kept them at home eating mainly tsampa — roasted barley — since the day after the March 14 riot. One reason the curfew was loosened, they said, was the foreign media visit.
Students for a Free Tibet responded to this act of brave disruption of China’s propaganda machine in a statement by Executive Director Lhadon Tethong:
“In Tibet, where the free expression of political views is met with incarceration and torture, these monks risked everything to show the world that Tibet is not free. While the Chinese government tries to paint a picture of criminal Tibetan riots and many in the press focus on ethnic tensions, the fundamental issue is freedom. The Tibetan people are not and never will be content under Chinese rule.”
I think it’s simply worth pointing out that China has been severely embarrassed by these monks. China thought that by hand-picking a group of foreign journalists and bringing them to Lhasa for a brief guided tour of the city, with similarly hand-picked Han Chinese settlers who were injured in protests, they would be able to convince these journalists and then the world that all the problems in Tibet originated from oppressed Tibetans, but now all is well. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get that story line out when the Tibetan monks are willing to risk their personal safety to disrupt the propaganda tour and give these foreign journalists their first real access to Tibet.
This propaganda tour aimed to present a facade of press freedom. China sought to quiet the loud, global sentiment that foreign journalists must be allowed back into Tibet. But it was an illusion, empty of the truth the world needed until these brave monks spoke out and made sure that the press had access to real Tibetans who suffer under oppression and risk their lives for freedom.
Al Jazeera has video footage of the Tibetan monks at the Jokhang temple as well, though they say 50-60 monks participated in their impromptu news conference.