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China keeps its tight grip on Tibetans in provinces
The National[Friday, October 24, 2008 16:33]
Paul Mooney, Foreign Correspondent

Beijing: In September, a 42-year-old Tibetan monk sat down and recorded a video, calmly recounting harrowing tales of abuses of Buddhist monks at the hands of Chinese police and military. He uploaded the film to YouTube, gave telephone interviews to the Associated Press and the Voice of America, and then went into hiding.

Paramilitary policemen patrol a street in Lhasa in May. (Reuters)
Paramilitary policemen patrol a street in Lhasa in May. (Reuters)
The film was a stark reminder of continuing harsh conditions that Tibetan people face seven months after protests broke out in Lhasa. While there were expectations that the situation would be relaxed following the conclusion of the Beijing Olympics in August, some Tibet analysts have said conditions are actually getting worse.

The conditions are nothing less than incredible. Guards at numerous checkpoints on motorways leading into these areas – across several provinces of western China that are traditionally home to the Tibetan people – stop vehicles and search Tibetans from head to toe, according to one source. The road between Xining and Lhasa, a nearly three-day drive, is punctuated by no less than 18 police checkpoints.

Streets in such places as Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, are saturated with military police and army, although some have switched to plain clothes and now hide their weapons in cloth bags, following the return of foreign tourists in recent months.

Woeser, a Tibetan poet and commentator on Tibetan affairs, who visited Lhasa in August, tells of armed military patrols walking through the streets, guarding intersections 24 hours a day, and police armed with rifles and clubs manning every bus stop in the city, boarding each bus as it comes in to search all Tibetan passengers.

To prevent any mishaps during the Olympics Games, officials in China cancelled religious celebrations and even the popular summer horse racing. Tibetans living abroad were refused visas to return home, and those holding Chinese passports who were allowed to return tell of being singled out for body and bag searches arriving at airports and being refused rooms at hotels.

According to a new rule made public in July, Tibetans working in the government or who are members of the Communist Party were ordered to bring back any children who are studying in schools in India – many of which have been set up by the Tibetan Government in Exile, headed by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who fled China for India almost 50 years ago. Parents are torn. Those that fail to comply will be fired from their jobs and kicked out of the party, while those children who return home will be suspect in the eyes of the government and may face punishment. Parents were given two months to comply.

Some of the worst conditions exist at Tibetan monasteries. Jamyang Norbu, a prominent Tibetan writer living in the United States, said the Chinese regard the monasteries “as the source of all problems”. Security people are stationed inside the monasteries to keep an eye on monks. In recent months, small police stations have been built right beside these monastic centres.

Some monks have been forced out of their monasteries, some have been beaten and others have been imprisoned. Many others have fled out of fear. As a result, some monasteries are almost deserted. Woeser said the situation is so severe that no less than eight monks have committed suicide in recent months – the oldest being more than 70 years old.

About 1,000 monks were arrested following the disturbance this year, and those released tell sad stories of being beaten and tortured. An estimated 675 were released in July. However, the whereabouts of more than 300 others remains unknown.

The government has been carrying out “patriotic” education in monasteries since 1996, and the programme has now spread to government departments, schools and even factories.

“It’s everywhere, and there is a real sense of resentment,” said Tenzin Loesel, a researcher with the International Campaign for Tibet based in Dharamsala. “The more you pressure people, the more resistance they’re going to have to this.”

There are two aspects to the education, Woeser said. “One, they want all the people to recognise Tibet is a part of China, and that’s not a problem. The big problem is that they want Tibetans to denounce the Dalai Lama. That’s impossible.”

A western scholar said the increased attacks on the Dalai Lama are the most provocative of the Chinese government policies in Tibet, which he said “offends everybody”.

The protests in April and May, he said, were directly triggered by the “patriotic education” campaign.

Government officials, party members and students are forbidden from participating in religious activities.

Jamyang Norbu, the writer, said local authorities search homes for signs of religious belief – anything from religious symbols to photographs of the Dalai Lama.

“The Communist Party doesn’t even allow freedom of religion on a small scale,” he said. “It’s afraid things will get worse.”

“There’s a complete and total ban on religion in people’s lives,” said the western expert, who said interference in religious practices is growing. “The government is lying when it says that there is freedom of religion.”

The government campaign has raised fear to an unprecedented level.

Woeser said the official website of one country in Tibet boasts having installed some 1,800 spy cameras, raising chilling notions of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. “The most frightening thing is that the people don’t know where the cameras are,” she said, “so they’re afraid to do or say anything.”

Common people are afraid to say or do anything in their own homes. “They don’t understand technology,” she said. “They think this technology can penetrate walls.”

Observers said fear will be a part of life for Tibetans for at least another year. Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s escape to India, and analysts say an already nervous Chinese government is unlikely to relax its iron grip on Tibet any time soon.

pmooney@thenational.ae
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