By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
BEIJING, China – After the mid-March violence and a subsequent government crackdown, the Chinese government invited international journalists to tour Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The reporters, from 19 media organizations including the U.S. Associated Press, Britain’s Financial Times and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, toured the Tibetan capital on a three-day trip press junket in Lhasa. The purpose of the tour is to show foreign reporters the city is calm after recent anti-China protests, and to help sway international opinion on China’s crackdown and arrests in the aftermath of the riots. It is first time foreign reporters had been allowed into Tibet since the unrest began two weeks ago.
According to the schedule, the reporters first went to a Tibetan medical clinic that had been attacked in the riot near the Jokhang Temple square in downtown Lhasa. They were also shown the Yishion clothing store where five girls had been trapped and burned to death in an arson attack by the rioters, the torched buildings of the Lhasa No. 2 Middle School, and a smashed Bank of China outlet. The reporters also allowed to visit local markets, shopping centers, the city’s relief station and interview government officials and injured police, said the Chinese information office official.
However, the tour at the sacred Jokhang Temple, one of Tibet’s holiest shrines, was disrupted by outburst of a group of 30 monks in red robes shouting there was no religious freedom, and the Dalai Lama had been wrongly accused by China of responsibility for the rioting. “Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!” yelled one young Buddhist monk, who then started crying, said an Associated Press correspondent in the tour. Some journalists even said a monk complained that the government had planted fake monks in the monastery to talk to the media.
Government handlers shouted for the journalists to leave and tried to pull them away during the protest. The protesting monks appeared to go back to their living quarters. There was no way of knowing immediately what happened to them. Later, People’s Armed Police sealed off the area around Jokhang. The only people allowed to enter are those who live in the narrow lines around the temple.
When some reporters attempted to break away from the group, Chinese officials followed them throughout Tibet. Only furtive conversations with Tibetans were possible. But the reporters were kept away from any potential hotspots, including the Ramoche monastery, where the violence started on March 14.
For more information, please see:
AP – Tibet Monks Disrupt Tour by Journalists – 27 March 2008
CNN – Monks protest upstages China’s PR tour – 27 March 2008
New York Times – Monks Protest During Press Tour of China – 27 March 2008
Wall Street Journal – Tour of Lhasa Shows, Wide Scope of Unrest – 27 March 2008
XinHua – Overseas journalists’ Lhasa tour interrupted, resumes soon – 28 March 2008