Eye­wit­ness writes about the fear in Ti­bet

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - RICHARD HAL­LO­RAN

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 pacnet@hawai­ibiz.rr.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.

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