Eyewitness writes about the fear in Tibet
The letter from Tibet was at once plaintive and vivid, saying “what has happened and continues to happen in Lhasa is extremely sad and scary.”
The letter, whose author cannot be identified for fear of Chinese retribution, detailed the Chinese clampdown on the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. “In the center, military has occupied every intersection and stand on every side street, diligently checking your identity card. Even the tiniest of alleyways have at least four military personnel, of whom at least one has a bayonet and all of them a shield, a bat and a helmet.”
Written a few days ago, the letter noted empty streets, closed shops, and vacant tea houses. “It makes you aware of how scared people are these days. Very few people stop on the street when they meet friends, because every gathering of people is suspicious. A lot of people still stay at home because they are scared they will get arrested for no reason if they go out.”
“The square in front of the holiest Tibetan Temple, the Jokhang, normally a sea of people, prostrating, circumambulating and socializing, is now completely empty,” the letter smuggled out of Lhasa said. “In front of the square, two military in blue uniforms strictly ensure nobody walks on the square.”
The letter, which covered events from early March, when rioting erupted, until recent days, bemoaned changing Chinese rules. “One day you can go nearly everywhere, the next, military checkpoints won’t let you pass.”
The writer saw a man wanting to pass a checkpoint with his young daughter. The soldiers would let him pass but not the girl because she was not old enough to have an identity card.
In contrast, an essay by a Chinese scholar in the United States contended that the situation caused by Tibetan protests and Chinese reaction was about “the pride of China and the prejudice of the West.” Da Wei, at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, in Washington, D.C., asserted that the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, China and the West have all lost.
“Obviously, the Dalai Lama and his supporters have successfully drawn international attention to the Tibet issue.” In doing so, Da Wei argued, “the riots and the agitation around the Olympic torch relay pushed the Dalai Lama, his government-in-exile, and organizations like the Tibetan Youth Congress, away from the majority of Chinese.”
“For human-rights activists and sympathizers of the Dalai Lama in Western countries, their actions can be called a failure,” he said. “Their only achievement was humiliating the Chinese government. At the same time, they disappointed the majority of Chinese because extinguishing the Olympic torch, which embodies the hopes and goodwill of the Chinese people, humiliated and offended ordinary Chinese.”
“It is a big loss for Beijing,” the scholar wrote. “The Chinese government did not expect the Olympic Games to be politicized to this extent. It also damaged severely the image of China”s ‘peaceful development” and its ‘harmonious society.” “ His essay was published online by Pacific Forum, a Honolulu think tank, to present a Chinese perspective. (The essay can be read at email@example.com)
The letter from Lhasa said that when foreign journalists were brought to Lhasa in March, “the military suddenly disappeared from the streets.” They were “hiding inside buildings and behind corners where the journalists couldn’t see them. We were suddenly allowed to go everywhere.” After the journalists left, the military came back immediately.
Jail conditions were said to be bad, with “not enough food, not enough water, and not enough blankets.” Prisoners get one cup of water a day and nothing else. Their bodies weaken and they die either in prison or after they are released. “The prisoners get beaten up very badly,” the writer said. “They especially beat the kidney, liver and gall region so prisoners get internal injuries and slowly die.”
The letter said the Chinese were carrying away all dead bodies and not allowing Tibetan families to bury them. “The government made sure that everybody who didn’t die under normal circumstances was found and taken away from the family,” the letter said, “so nobody can make pictures and show them to friends or journalists outside Tibet.”
The letter”s final lament: “All Tibetan people want is religious freedom and the right to preserve their culture. They are tired of writing papers against the Dalai Lama, of patriotic reeducation and all the rules and regulations that make their life so difficult.”
Richard Halloran is a freelance writer and former New York Times correspondent based in Honolulu.