Hundreds Reportedly Detained in Lhasa Crackdown

Security forces in Lhasa have detained or expelled hundreds of residents and pilgrims, according to a local source, after two monks reportedly set themselves on fire outside the Jokhang Temple on Sunday in the most serious protest the city has seen since the March 2008 riots. From The Telegraph:

Sunday’s incident was the first of its kind in the Tibetan capital, which has been under tight security since deadly anti-Chinese government riots broke out there in 2008.

Residents of Lhasa said the city was under even tighter security than usual following Sunday’s protest, with police and paramilitary officers out in force.

One resident contacted by AFP on Monday said police were carrying out identity checks in the streets and that mobile telephone signals had been blocked.

Free Tibet, a London-based campaign group, also said it had received reports that Tibetan residents in Lhasa had been arbitrarily detained in the wake of the protest.

According to Voice of America, the latest wave of self-immolations comes after Chinese officials banned members of the Party, government officials and students from observing Tibetan Buddhism’s holy month of Saka Dawa.  Reuters also reported that China has labeled the self-immolators “terrorists” and blamed the Dalai Lama for the incident. NPR’s Renee Montagne spoke on Thursday with Tibet expert Robert Barnett of Columbia University, who tweeted on Sunday that “Lhasa is boiling.” He called the self-immolations in Lhasa a “huge symbolic setback for China” and said it is difficult to predict how the incoming generation of Chinese leaders will address the situation in Tibet:

MONTAGNE: Looking ahead, and given that China will have a new set of leaders at the end of this year, what do you think will happen? Do you think that China will crack down harder on Tibetans?

BARNETT: We can be sure that in Lhasa, in Tibet, Tibetans will have a much harder time now. There will be a crackdown. There are already military on every street corner of the Tibetan culture(ph) of Lhasa. That’s been like that for several years. That’s going to increase. And Tibetans – a lot will be arrested, and so on. But I think in Beijing, so much of Chinese politics is a black box. We just don’t know what’s happened behind the scenes, especially at the higher levels. But a few months ago, in February, the Chinese prime minister, the premiere, Wen Jiabao, said that the people who immolate in Tibet are innocent.

That means that the top leadership in China has defined the immolators as not being criminals. They’re people who are regarded as – who misunderstand the situation, or something like that. So there’s a little chink of light there.

They’re still being accused of being manipulated by enemy forces led by the Dalai Lama and his followers. But we can see that there is some sign of thinking, some sign of a possible opening that could be used by moderates in Beijing if they were to get the ear of the top leadership.

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Tania Branigan reports the passing of the Tibetan woman who set fire to herself in Aba County, a Tibetan region of Sichuan where many of the recent self-immolations have taken place. See also previous CDT coverage of Tibet protests and the ongoing wave of self-immolation in Tibetan regions of China.