China censoring information on Jokhang fire raises concern over the extent of damage
Phayul - February 24, 2018 12:03By Tenzin Dharpo
DHARAMSHALA, Feb. 23: Following the fire at Tibet’s iconic Jokhang temple in Lhasa city on Feb. 17, Chinese government has resorted to clamp down on information online about the incident, prompting Tibetans and observers to question the extent of the damage suffered.
Chinese state media Xinhua on Thursday reported that while an area of 50 square meters was burned during the fire, “6,510 cultural relics” within the UNESCO world heritage site were intact and accounted for by the regional cultural relics bureau. The report also said that arson has been ruled out as the cause of fire.
However, within hours of the fire on Saturday evening, photos, videos and other posts on social media were censored and wiped out by the Chinese government, sources said, in an attempt to put a veil on the incident. Phayul was told by a Tibetan living in Lhasa that an adjacent shrine near the main temple holding the life sized statue of the Buddha known as the “jhowo Rinpoche”, was ravaged by fire and that the Jhowo shrine was safe.
Radio Free Asia reported that a day after the incident, the temple was opened to public although “yellow draperies had been newly hung behind the famous Jowo statue” and “no one was allowed to go up to the second floor of the temple”. The temple was then closed for three days through Feb. 22.
The information censorship online by the Chinese government and the curtailed updates on the Jokhang temple has raised concerns over the extent of damage. Robbie Barnett, a prominent Tibet expert told LA Times, "There's been this whole process of drip-feeding critical information to certain people, anonymously, unattributed. Key Tibetologists are getting this information; key foreigners in China are getting these accounts. But nobody outside knows where they're from, and we don't know which of the photos or stories are genuine."
The head of the information wing of the Central Tibetan Administration Dhardon Sharling said that the incident has, "panicked the whole world, there's no information except for two reports saying that the fire has been put out and the site has been reopened. That's not enough." Tibetan exile government run Tibet.net earlier last week said that “the fire is not at the Jowo chapel” but an adjacent chapel.