Monks Disrupt Media Tour in China

Published: April 10, 2008

BEIJING — China suffered another unexpected public relations setback on Wednesday when Buddhist monks interrupted a government-managed news media tour in western China by waving a Tibetan flag and protesting that the authorities were depriving them of their human rights.

The disruption, in Xiahe, a city in Gansu Province, was the second in which monks had upstaged government efforts to control foreign media tours of Tibetan areas.

Last month, several monks in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, risked official punishment when they made an emotional appeal to foreign journalists inside the Jokhang Monastery, one of the city’s holiest shrines.

The outburst on Wednesday occurred as authorities guided reporters through the Labrang Monastery. The tour was the first officially approved visit to Xiahe by foreign reporters since monks and other Tibetans in the city clashed with the police last month. During the tour, about 15 monks rushed out, waving a Tibetan flag, and approached a group of about 20 Chinese and foreign reporters.

“The Dalai Lama has to come back to Tibet,” one monk said, according to Reuters, which was invited on the tour. “We are not asking for Tibetan independence; we are just asking for human rights. We have no human rights now.”

Several monks draped their heads in robes, Reuters reported, possibly in an attempt to conceal their identities and avoid later punishment. They also said that local authorities were holding other monks and that armed plainclothes security officers were posted around the city.

The issue of Tibet continues to create a domestic political crisis and international public relations disaster for China. Tibet and other regions were rocked by anti-Chinese riots last month, and China is facing increasing criticism over its human rights record as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in August.

This week, protesters angry about China’s record on human rights disrupted the international Olympic torch relay as it passed through London and Paris, while San Francisco on Wednesday girded for a major confrontation with protesters during the only leg of the tour in the United States.

International leaders, including President Bush, have called on China’s ruling Communist Party to meet with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, and begin a dialogue on resolving the Tibetan situation. On Wednesday, the Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, used a speech at Peking University in Beijing to raise human rights concerns about Tibet.

“Australia, like most other countries, recognizes China’s sovereignty over Tibet, but we also believe it is necessary to recognize there are significant human rights problems in Tibet,” said Mr. Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker, according to accounts in the Australian news media.

But, as yet, China has shown few signs of softening its tough accusations against the Dalai Lama and continues to blame a “Dalai clique” for the riots and protests that erupted March 14 in Lhasa. This week, state media disputed a list of Tibetan victims released by the Tibetan government in exile, saying that many of the names could not be proved to exist.

China’s state media are filled with reports defending China’s policies toward Tibet, even as many Tibetans and analysts partly trace the roots of last month’s violence to failed government policies.

The press tour of Xiahe was organized by Beijing authorities, which invited only selected media organizations. The government used the same invitation-only strategy during the Lhasa tour, overruling objections from uninvited news organizations in the name of security concerns. The New York Times sought to be included in both tours, but was not invited.

At a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday, Champa Phuntsok, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s government, continued the campaign against the Dalai Lama, accusing the spiritual leader of telling “lies to instigate antagonism between various ethnic groups and to cheat the international community.”

Champa Phuntsok also said that the protests in London and Paris proved that the Dalai Lama was not sincere in achieving reconciliation with the Chinese government.

“I believe Tibetans are a good, simple people who know how to be grateful,” he said. The chairman, himself Tibetan, said seeing images of overseas Tibetan protesters made him ashamed.

He told reporters that the monks who protested to foreign reporters last month in Lhasa would not be punished, despite assertions by monks that the government is doing just that. “We simply do not punish or execute monks for telling a different version,” he said. “Of course, their version is untrue.”

Chinese public security officials announced that security would be increased for the Chinese stage of the Olympic torch relay, which begins May 4 and continues until Aug. 8, when the flame is scheduled to arrive in Beijing for the Olympic opening ceremony.

The Ministry of Public Security issued a notice on its Web site calling on all local police departments to “guarantee” security work in order to assure a smooth procession of the torch through China, according to state media reports.

state media reports.

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