Agam's Gecko
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Harmony in Kashgar
Chinese paramilitary soldier watches out for troublemakers during the torch relay at Kashgar's Aitigar Square, June 18, 2008.
Photo: AP / Robert F. Bukaty

ig Brother Love's travelling Olympic show has just played its two performances in East Turkestan, where dozens of dissidents may soon be sitting on death row. Next stop Lhasa, Tibet -- where people have simply been disappearing without a trace lately.

As the day approaches for Her Flaming Harmoniousness to bring her unique form of heat to the streets of Lhasa (this Saturday), and as China approaches its upcoming advance performance in the Communist Party version of "Free and Open Olympics," the world is locked out of a Tibet in which at least a thousand Tibetan detainees seized over the past three months remain unaccounted for due to their wilful expression of aspirations and conscience.

Families search for them from prisons to Public Security Bureau detention centres, getting similar answers at every place. "We don't have your loved one, try that prison over there." In some sense, all Tibetans are in the same prison.

Amnesty International has released an update on the ongoing Tibet crackdown, which says that at least 1,000 people, out of the thousands detained since March, are still not accounted for.
In its report, "People's Republic of China - Tibet: Access Denied", Amnesty studied what it called the "severe censorship" facing journalists and Tibetans, plus reports that detainees had been beaten and deprived of adequate food and proper health care.

"There is very little information coming out of Tibet, but the information we have paints a dire picture of arbitrary detentions and abuse of detainees," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific director.

"With the torch relay about to enter Tibetan areas, this should be an opportunity to shine some light on the situation there."
Some of the misdeeds for which Tibetans have 'disappeared' into the security system are those of trying to communicate with the outside world. The Chinese authorities are happiest when they are able to conduct their abuse out of sight (and out of the world's mind).
"The complete lock-down in Tibet is allowing human rights abuses such as arbitrary detentions, ill treatment and severe censorship to go unreported and unpunished," Zarifi said.

"Hundreds of people languish in Chinese prisons for peacefully expressing their opinions, in appalling conditions and without their relatives even knowing where they are.

"The passing of the torch should allow journalists a chance to see the actual situation on the ground and promote the 'Free and Open Olympics' promised in the Beijing Olympic Action Plan."
The Amnesty International update cites some of the incidents I've been writing about here over the past months, and can be read online or downloaded here.
Many hundreds, possibly thousands, of Tibetans languish in prisons or detention centers without the government publically acknowledging their whereabouts or formally charging them with a criminal offence. Numerous reliable reports state that family members and friends of detained individuals have been unable to get information from the authorities regarding the whereabouts of detained relatives or fellow monks and nuns.
The Tibetan exile authorities have collected and collated all available reports, and put the number of those still detained at just barely under 6,000.

The torch went sightseeing on the Silk Road this week, to Urumchi and Kashgar in the Uyghur lands, where most of the adoring crowds were handpicked cadres sent by their work units -- most of them Han Chinese. Everyone else was ordered to stay home, keep all their windows closed, and even told to keep well away from these windows and stick to their televisions for the duration. It seems that there wasn't much for residents to do outside in any case if they weren't invited to the party. All shops and businesses were also closed. Most of the ethnic Uyghur people (now numbering less than half the population of their country) seemed disinterested at best.
"We weren't allowed to go and see it," said a Uighur woman in the backstreets in the old part of the oasis city. "But even if we were, I think people would have stayed away anyway."
Some foreign reporters were present, but were banned from speaking to anyone watching the relay, and they were confined to a single vantage point and required to stay there. A huge statue of Mao observed the proceedings.

China justifies such treatment by branding the colonized region as a hotbed of terrorism, having touted several "terror plots" disrupted earlier this year. But like their accusations against Dalai Lama for stirring up "terrorism" in his homeland, factual support for the charges have been non-existent. While Miss Torchy was escorted around their country, at least 65 Uyghur activists languished in prison awaiting trial for terrorism, and at least 20 of these are at risk of execution.

Harmony in Kashgar
Chinese paramilitary soldier keeps his eye on a journalist at the torch relay, while Mao's 24 metre-tall ghost keeps an eye on him, in Kashgar on June 18, 2008.
Photo: AP / Robert F. Bukaty
There was a fine interview with Robert Barnett of Columbia University on the New York Times' Olympics blog a few days ago. He says the authorities may be getting themselves into more problems with their insistence in making these triumphal displays of overlordship.
"I think what we’re seeing with this relay is an attempt by China to extend its claims for authority into areas where those claims are weak, in places like Xinjiang and Tibet. And the government is getting into a big fix by overextending its claims for propaganda purposes, because the torch relay and Olympics in general are creating a division between ethnic Chinese and other ethnicities, whereas official Chinese policy for so many years has been to be seen as creating a "harmonious society," a multiethnic melting pot."
These forced and carefully choreographed events as have just been staged in Urumchi and Kashgar are a nuisance fact of life for Tibetans in their country as well. From time to time, some occasion or anniversary will be used to order a selection of people from various neighbourhoods and work groups to show up at dawn in their best traditional clothes to watch a parade or applaud their officials. They must look their traditional Tibetan best for the cameras, or risk being fingered for a political offence. Barnett's interview is good reading in preparation for what we'll be permitted to see in Lhasa this Saturday.

While the images portrayed by the show will attempt to display a happy ethnic minority thankful for the Communist Party's wise leadership, its representatives keep up the shrill invective against the most beloved symbol of the Tibetan nation and culture. China's ambassador to Nepal, whose unrestrained tongue we've seen in action on other recent occasions, has charged that Dalai Lama has now sent a secret agent into Kathmandu to "plot various anti-China activities." But Zheng Xianglin seems confident that China has nothing much to worry about. Although he again states that the Tibetan spiritual leader "engineered" the Tibetan uprising, he says Dalai Lama was now "becoming increasingly alienated in the international community. Ninety-five percent of Tibetans do not recognise the Dalai Lama as their leader."

With this "alienated" world figure now attending the Petra Conference in Jordan, along with many of the world's most highly respected people (including many fellow Nobel Laureates), Zheng's first assertion rings more than a bit hollow. Tibetans who are still expressing their loyalty to him in the certain knowledge that they will be arrested and beaten bloody if not killed, prove the lie in his second one.

The word of the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship is on the line this year, and they've got some convincing to do. They did make some particular promises about openness during their bid for this year's Games, and in 2001 they were awarded the honour they wanted. How did they fulfil the promises? A report covering the period between then and now has been published by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) has been keeping track of "obstruction or detention of foreign journalists and harassment of their sources" during the first 16 months under the government's new "Olympic regulations." They recorded more than 230 such cases.
This was most evident after March demonstrations in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, led to riots by ethnic Tibetans and protests in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces. More than 50 foreign journalists were turned away by police when they tried to enter areas where disturbances were reported, according to complaints compiled by the FCCC. Local officials invoked emergency powers to simply override the Olympic reporting regulations—a step that could not have been taken without the consent of the central government in Beijing.

FCCC records reflect a litany of obstruction: Police detained a Finnish Broadcasting Co. crew outside the monastery town of Xiahe, Gansu province. Authorities twice turned back a reporter for U.S.-based National Public Radio in Gansu—and then followed her car for more than 200 miles. Police blocked a crew from the American television network ABC from filming in a Tibetan neighborhood in Chengdu, Sichuan province. When the crew cited the Olympic rules allowing foreign reporters to travel and interview anyone who consents, an ABC reporter said, a police officer "simply shrugged and hailed us a taxi."

Two weeks after the rioting erupted, authorities finally allowed a small number of handpicked foreign journalists into Lhasa—but access was limited to an official tour that was closely managed by government minders.
And please let us not forget that unapproved press conference by a group of Jokhang Temple monks during that media tour. It was a courageous thing to do, and those monks are still paying for that now, likely in some dark unmarked dungeon somewhere.

While the authorities played nice to the foreign media on that limited occasion, soon afterward the CCP media was heavily pushing the "bias" of foreigners, as "evidenced" by a couple of very dumb editorial mistakes by some very minor news services (mis-captioned photos -- unsurprisingly, and mainly due to an effective blocking of any images actually from Tibet by the CCP itself). The theme was quickly picked up and amplified by the hyper-nationalist community into something bordering on hysterical. China quickly became a hostile environment for foreign journalists, the CPJ report recalls.
... At least 10 foreign correspondents reported receiving anonymous death threats, and numerous other journalists said they received harassing phone calls, e-mails, and text messages. The tensions prompted the FCCC to issue security tips to its members and to warn that "interference and hate campaigns targeting international media may poison the pre-Games atmosphere for foreign journalists."
Foreign journalists are welcome to the Beijing Games, as long as they report correctly. A newly-issued English phrasebook for police offers the hypothetical scenario of an officer who must prevent a journalist from covering a story involving the banned Falun Gong faith group. The scenario is entitled "How to Stop Illegal News Coverage."
"Excuse me, sir. Stop, please," says the officer politely but firmly, before explaining in impressively advanced English: "It’s beyond the limit of your coverage and illegal. As a foreign reporter in China you should obey China law and do nothing against your status."
The reporter in the scenario ends up having to 'go to the station' with the officer. Foreign journalists are not usually mistreated, and are generally only detained for a period of 2 - 6 hours, says the report.

Jonathan Ansfield, a writer for Newsweek, gave some detailed accounts of his adventures in avoidance of the authorities during the first few weeks of the spreading protests in Tibet. He says that foreign journalists should be taking some risks. This seems logical (and hopefully, some will do so this summer), given that they have nothing more to fear than some hours being treated politely. (The ones at real risk are those locals who talk to them. Foreign journalists are described as being inside "a circle of fire" that protects the journalist but threatens anyone they come near.) Ansfield recommends Chinese passport-holders not to try his advice:
"It cannot hurt us to put up a little fight. … Stipulate your 'rights' and any 'violations' thereof. Counter questions with questions or non-answers. Yes, apologetic kowtowing does speed the process, if you have no other leg to stand on. Otherwise, I say, try a few histrionics. Look tough. Make a wisecrack. Go a little batty. A modicum of brusqueness may discourage police from taking advantage of a detention-type situation. Not that anything is ever guaranteed."
The CPJ report can be viewed or downloaded at Falling Short, clearly a provocative title. It will be seen in the hyper-nationalistic community as simply more foreign media racism and bias against the Chinese people, using the 's' word in this way. How dare they? China's leaders really hate being called that, and will wave off this report for that reason if they can find no other.

It's quite obvious that in this year of their promised "Free and Open Olympics," the Chinese authorities have been busily tightening the screws on any dissenting voices, and not just in Tibet. China's word has not only been shown up as worthless by its promises not kept, but by actually moving firmly in the opposite direction. The great international event of sporting brotherhood has been cynically used in the further deterioration of rights and freedoms in China, especially in its trampled colonies.

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