“Rare visit to remote Chinese region shows depth of Tibetan despair”

Days after The Guardian managed to sneak a reporter into Ngaba, Tom Lasseter from McClatchy has done the same thing. His report is incredible and horrifying and absolutely must be read:

The monk reached into the folds of his red robe, pulled out a small notebook, and gently slipped from its pages a tiny photograph.

The man in the creased picture was a relative. He used to be a fellow monk at the monastery perched in snow-wrapped mountains outside the town of Aba. Then a Chinese security officer killed him, the monk said.

A McClatchy reporter last week apparently became the first from an American news organization to make it to Aba since the chain of self-immolations began in March. To do so, he hid on the rear floor of a vehicle under two backpacks and a sleeping bag as it passed through multiple checkpoints.

Beijing has long blamed unrest in ethnic Tibetan areas on conspiracies hatched by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who fled to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

But conversations with ethnic Tibetans here and elsewhere in Sichuan province, where almost all of the self-immolations have occurred, suggest that China’s authoritarian policies designed to tamp down disorder are fueling the troubles.

Sections of the town famous for its Tibetan Buddhist monasteries have come to resemble an armed camp. A few blocks from the entrance, paramilitary police stood behind riot gates with shotguns and assault rifles. Three large troop-carrier trucks sat on the side of the road, flanked by more men with guns. Up ahead, traffic wound through further riot gates and troop positions not unlike those used in counterinsurgency efforts.

Chinese officials point out that they’ve spent billions of dollars constructing hospitals, roads and schools in Tibet, which is referred to by Beijing as an autonomous region, and nearby areas like those in Sichuan.

Or as a billboard depicting green fields and blue waters outside Maierma Township, approximately 20 miles from Aba, puts it: “Building a civilized, new Aba together.”

Many ethnic Tibetans recognize the benefits of the government’s projects. But they chafe at the government’s restrictions on free expression of their culture and religious practices, and they speak of anguish over being separated from the Dalai Lama.

The lingering threat of police showing up at their doorstep has by all accounts made the situation even more complicated for ethnic Tibetans.

The younger brother, in his early 20s and with plans to move to a bigger city, finished the sentence with an assertion that no one contradicted.

“The people lighting themselves on fire do it because they are suffering … or because one of their family members has been killed by the government and they are now filled with hatred,” he said. “They are doing these things because they want to express their pain and their hardship.”

The majority of Tibetans approached in the area said they couldn’t discuss such issues.

One herder near the town of Chali, about 30 miles east of Aba, gestured for a reporter to follow him to his house. Once inside, the 67-year-old man with tough, thick hands shook his head, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t dare talk about this.”

Official documents describing his arrest said that he and others had taken part in an action that “disrupted public order” and caused a traffic jam. The monk keeps the papers tucked in a plastic bag even though they’re written in Mandarin, a language he doesn’t understand well.

The monk said he was held in jail and fed such small amounts of thin porridge that it became difficult to stand up. He was then transferred to a reform-through-labor camp. “They told me that the Dalai Lama group is an obstacle to our road to peace,” said the monk, who was reluctant to describe the nearly two-year experience.

His relative never made it back — he died in custody, the result of being beaten in the head and then not receiving medical treatment, according to the monk and others at the monastery.

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Filed under Dalai Lama, ethnic conflict, prison, protest, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet, violence

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