Tibet Riots: Media Access, More Eyewitness Accounts, and World Reaction

Update to previous post, March 18, 2008 (to be updated throughout the day):

According to a Tibet official, 100 people have turned themselves into police after riots rocked the region’s capital of Lhasa. Reuters reports:

The official also said top-priority wanted notices had been issued for other suspects, but the report did not specify how many or what their alleged crimes were.

The statement was the first official word of people surrendering to authorities after they laid down a Monday midnight deadline urging rioters to hand themselves in or face tougher punishment if caught.

Foreign journalists continue to be turned back when trying to report close to the unrest in Tibet and other Tibetan enclaves of China. From the Christian Science Monitor:

This reporter was stopped by police at a highway tollbooth on Saturday evening and told he could go no farther toward the town of Xiahe, in Gansu Province, where Tibetans had been demonstrating against the government.

Two dozen other foreign journalists suffered the same fate at other roadblocks around the town. Some who had slipped in before the blocks were established were later escorted out of Xiahe by the police. Elsewhere, two Canadian TV reporters were briefly detained by the police after filming in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

The Daily Telegraph’s Richard Spencer also writes about being surrounded by police and detained while trying to report on protests at monasteries in Gansu province:

For the first time, they [police] were visibly armed: one had a light submachine gun swinging menacingly in our direction. They rounded with particular aggression on Andy, a photographer, who is ethnic Chinese. Even as they inspected his (Malaysian) passport, they demanded details: what did you see? what are you doing here? what is your hukou (place of legal residence)?

It was only when they realised he wasn’t a Chinese citizen that they put the gun away.

A stand-off ensued in which the police, predictably, pointed out that we were in China and had to obey Chinese law, and that meant them. We pointed out that they had to obey Chinese law – which says that foreign correspondents are allowed to travel and report freely.

This cut no ice, needless to say.

When asked about the situation by reporters at the NPC’s closing press conference, Premier Wen Jiabao gave only a vague response. From the Press Trust of India:

Asked why China was not letting foreign journalists to travel to Tibet if it was sure of its version of the developments in the Himalayan region, Wen said the situation in Lhasa was “basically returning to normal. The situation is quite and calm”.

He assured the agitated western journalists that he fully appreciated the reason why the international media organisations would “like to go there at this moment”.

At the press conference, Wen also said the government would consider organizing a trip to Lhasa for foreign reporters.

On KQED’s Forum program, Michael Krasny interviewed CDT’s Xiao Qiang and others about the situation in Tibet and the difficulties getting information out. (Audio of the program should be up on the site soon.)

The Economist’s James Miles filed his report from Lhasa yesterday. As mentioned before, he’s the only foreign news correspondent on the ground in the Tibetan capital:

Access to monasteries on the edge of Lhasa, where the unrest first began on Monday March 10th, remains blocked by police. Your correspondent was stopped several hundred metres away from the entrance to one of them, Sera, and was taken to a police station for brief questioning and inspection of documents before being released. Troops stopped him and deleted his photographs (foreigners, he said, were not allowed to take them). Government officials visited your correspondent at his hotel and advised him not to go out “for the sake of security”.

Some Han Chinese in the city remain nervous. A Han taxi driver (Hans, rather than Tibetans, dominate the taxi business) was reluctant to drive close to the Tibetan quarter despite the intense security. A Han shopkeeper more than a kilometre away from the Tibetan-dominated area said he would remain in Lhasa, his home for the past 20 years, but many other Hans would leave. A Han acquaintance, he said, had been knifed to death during the riots. An exodus of Hans—and a drying up of tourism from other parts of China—would deal a body blow to the city’s economy.

This description of things on Monday from NEWS.com.au:

On Monday the tourists were allowed some movement but had to show their passports at frequent checkpoints.

“Shops were all burnt out – all the merchandise was on the street in a bonfire. Many buildings were gutted,” said Serge Lachapelle, a tourist from Montreal in Canada.

“The Muslim district was entirely destroyed – every store was destroyed,” said Mr Kenwood.

“I was able to go and eat in a restaurant (outside the hotel) this morning (yesterday). The Tibetans were not smiling any more,” he said.

More eyewitness accounts here from the BBC.

John Kennedy, at Global Voices Online, has new translations of bloggers both in Lhasa and in nearby Sichuan Province. On Tibetan writer Woeser’s blog, one reader writes at 00:17 on March 18:

As a Tibetan, I can never just give up
The Han have to choose: Tibet or the Olympics

Ken, one of the last foreigners to enter Tibet before violence broke out, describes the city on Monday:

Today people returned to the streets of Lhasa in droves. There are tons of Chinese police and army in the city but they are letting people wander without too much difficulty. Schools were also open today – hopefully all this means that there will not be any further escalation of the situation. Since the 14th things have quieted down dramatically – aside from a few booms and bangs we haven’t been able to hear much from where we are. We have heard, however, that the authorities have been conducting night-time arrests in other parts of the city, but this is not confirmed.

After a Security Council meeting yesterday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN is not planning to send in a force to Tibet. He urged Chinese authorities to exercise “restraint”, the AP reported:

“I’m increasingly concerned about the tensions and reports of violence and loss of life in Tibet and elsewhere,” he told reporters outside the council’s chambers. “At this time I urge restraint on the part of the authorities, and call on all concerned to avoid further confrontation and violence. And I stress the importance of a peaceful resolution.”

Asked whether he sees a U.N. role toward Tibet, Ban answered: “We will continuously monitor the situation; we’ll get back to you.”

The Dalai Lama accused the Chinese government on Sunday of waging “cultural genocide” against Tibetans, and called for a UN probe into the situation.

March 18, 2008 11:11 AM
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Categories: Politics, Society