Tuesday, February 24, 2009
LOSAR EVE, NOTHING TO CELEBRATE; NOT EVEN HOPE-N-CHANGE
t's New Year's Eve in Tibet. Tomorrow, many if not most Tibetans will feel they have nothing to celebrate, even on the most celebratory date in their calendar, the day known as Losar.
Chinese military deployment has been boosted in recent weeks, with the troops making a show of conducting combat drills. China wants Tibet to "celebrate, damn it, if you know what's good for you."
Meanwhile, men and women of courage continue to launch protests against their oppressors, and continue to be beaten and jailed for their conscience. The message to them is straightforward: The beatings will continue until morale improves. Or possibly until you are dead, one or the other.
More information has emerged from Tibet on the surge of protest in Lithang which began just over one week ago with a single vocal dissenter. The Washington Post spoke to a grocery store owner who witnessed Lobsang Lhundup's solo protest on February 15 at the county's main vegetable market, and the follow-up demonstration the next day.
On the second day, she said, she saw several hundred Tibetans gathered downtown shouting, "Long live the Dalai Lama," the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists who lives in exile in India. In just a few minutes, she said, squads of police arrived and a melee ensued.
At least one Tibetan protester was swinging a stick, she said, and others were throwing stones. The policemen subdued them using what she called "electronic sticks" and tear gas.
"I'm afraid of talking about this with you," one Lithang police officer said by telephone.Radio Free Asia spoke to Lobsang Lhundup's brother, who lives in India but is in contact with people in Lithang. Witnesses who saw Lobsang's detention say that he was severely beaten before being taken away. Other monks in India received reports from their local contacts about the solidarity action on the morning of the 16th, led by Lobsang's brother Sonam Tenpa.
"It's a secret. We are not allowed to tell all the truth, information, and what happened to people outside. This is the policy," the officer said.
"Many residents of Dekyi town in Lithang also joined the protests, including Tibetan officials in the Chinese administration," he said.Sonam Tenpa and three other brothers of Lobsang Lhundup were singled out for particularly brutal treatment, according to the relay of witness accounts through Andruk Tseten, also in India.
Chinese police then attacked the demonstrators, including "elderly Tibetans who were walking around a nearby temple," [Serme] Loga said.
"My contact in Lithang told me that the four brothers who protested today [Feb. 16] were so badly beaten that they appeared to be dead when they were put into the vans," Tseten said.
"Two protesters are thought by the local people to have been beaten to death," he added. "They are feared to be Lobsang Tenzin and Jampa Thogme, two of the brothers of Lobsang Lundrub."
The report notes that a similar security build-up has been reported in four Tibetan areas; the capital Lhasa, Labrang (eastern Amdo), Rebkong (home of the Rongwo Monastery also in eastern Amdo -- and for which I absent-mindedly retained the Chinese name Tongren from the media report, in the previous post), and Lithang. TCHRD has provided photographs of fifteen of those arrested last week in Lithang, which may be viewed here.
In the face of all this violence against people expressing their conscience, the state-controlled Chinese media in Tibet is calling on the Communist Party, military, police and public to "firmly crush the savage aggression of the Dalai clique." The CCP mouth-organ-piece Tibet Daily also revealed that the Tibet branch of the state-run "Buddhist Association of China" had revised its charter, requiring all nuns and monks to reject Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader. His Holiness is "the root cause of social unrest in Tibet, and the biggest obstacle to building up Tibetan Buddhism," according to the Communists' daily Tibet propaganda fish-wrap.
A disturbance was reported on the morning of February 19 in the town of Nagchu, in the county and prefecture of the same name, north of Lhasa in the Tibetan "Autonomous" Region. The first-hand account was posted in comments on Woeser's Chinese language blog and graciously translated by High Peaks Pure Earth. It's a familiar story, as a minor argument escalates into mass anger thanks to the highly-trained peace officers of China's security forces, and their tried-and-true methods for dispute intensification.
A Tibetan mini-van driver in Nagchu stopped to pick up a passenger that morning. A Chinese taxi-driver witnessed this transgression and felt the passenger should have been his, since the mini-vans (licensed for cargo and passenger hire) are not permitted to do business on the two main streets during the daytime. The taxi-driver began berating the mini-van driver, and the dispute escalated into a fight. Traffic police rushed to the scene and took the Tibetan driver into custody, repeatedly slapped his face, and seized his van.
Other Tibetan mini-van drivers and passers-by gathered around the scene, trying to reason with the police. The police captain, a Han Chinese, then summoned reinforcements in the form of People's Armed Police and Public Security Bureau officers who then surrounded the group of Tibetans.
At that moment, somebody shouted loudly in Tibetan "drive away the Chinese and return the land to us", "hope the Dalai Lama will come back to uphold justice" and other slogans, then all Tibetans also started to shout slogans. By this time, the incident had already escalated into violent conflict between Tibetans and the local public security officers, which resulted in a few traffic police cars on duty to be overturned and burned. There were people from both sides who were seriously injured. Only after the armed police fired their guns into the air to warn people (some claimed that three Tibetans were shot, but this has not been verified yet) did they bring the situation under control.Between 17 and 21 Tibetans were arrested in the incident, and an emergency meeting was convened by the local government ordering that no one is allowed to spread news of the event.
Reuters reported today that Chinese police have discovered several kilograms of explosives under a bridge in eastern Chamdo Prefecture (T-"A"-R). This is likely to be the same location reported a few days earlier by the Times of London.
A platoon of 100 soldiers has been deployed on the Gangtuo bridge the crosses a river on the provincial border between Sichuan [Kham] and Tibet ["Autonomous" Region] after reports of an attempt to set off explosives there in the past few days, sources said.The Reuters reporter describes hundreds of security forces taking part in practice drills on the outskirts of Dartsedo (Ch: Kangding), the capital of Kardze Prefecture, marching in crowd control formations and wielding batons, sticks and guns. Travelling from Dartsedo toward Lithang, the reporter finds that communications (internet and mobile phone services) have been cut off.
The narrow roads of western Sichuan were clogged with columns of army vehicles sent out from the Chengdu Military Command, and the numbers of soldiers involved may be as high as 20,000 (two divisions), according to the Times. These troops are permitted to carry loaded weapons, an extreme measure for a domestic deployment according to local sources.
In the Ngaba Prefecture section of northern Sichuan, sources in Marthang County (Ch: Hongyuan) described military convoys reaching up to hundreds of vehicles. The main town has been closed down since Sunday, as the People's Liberation Army will be conducting military exercises tomorrow (Losar). At another town in the region, paramilitary troopers have filled up the hotels.
Returning westward again to Lithang, local sources have told the Times that two Chinese traffic police and one paramilitary had been stabbed to death during nighttime hours, and police are warned against wearing their uniforms after dark. Troops are deployed around most large monasteries in all Tibetan regions. Further west in Lhasa, military patrol squads have been increased from five to thirteen men each, and patrol the city streets day and night. During the night many military vehicles are seen driving around -- including armoured personel carriers.
Two more of these nuns have been sentenced for their courage. Soe Lhatso, 35, was handed a ten year prison term for engaging in the peace march. Bhumo, 36, will be jailed for nine years for her crime of self expression. At least another dozen of the arrested nuns, said to be those with responsible positions in the institution, remain in detention. Two other young people in Kardze have been sentenced for peacefully protesting there last March 18. Ngawang Tashi and Dorjee Tashi, both 18, were each sent to the slammer for three years.
As the new Hope'n'Change Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her way to Beijing last weekend, the new direction for United States human rights policy began to clarify. The international emissary of President Barack H. Obama told reporters as she left Seoul that American dissatisfaction with the lack of meaningful human rights in China and Tibet would have to take a back seat to more important issues.
"But our pressing on those issues can't interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis," Clinton told reporters in Seoul just before leaving for Beijing.Darn it. Those vicious little carbon dioxide molecules really are deceptively deadly, now victimizing innocent Tibetans and Chinese freedom lovers in addition to Al Gore. Just when the rights activists had begun to hope for change in a region where the greatest number of humans live under an oppressively intolerant regime, and soon after these same activist groups had excitedly praised the fabulous victory of The One We've All Been Waiting For (*cough*ICT*cough*), this had to happen.
During her visit, Chinese dissidents (including signatories of the landmark "Charter 08" group which had openly called for civil rights in December) were questioned, followed or detained to keep them out of embarrassing (for the CCP) situations. The impromptu crackdown on liberty hinged on only one thing -- the visit of Secretary Clinton. Freedom activists were told their restrictions would be lifted after she was gone. Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch put the situation in a very nice nutshell. "Secretary Clinton's remarks point to a diplomatic strategy that has worked well for the Chinese government — segregating human rights issues into a dead-end 'dialogue of the deaf,'" she said.
China had been worried, according to analysts, that the Obama administration might push the freedom agenda with them more strongly than the Bush administration had done. Fools.
The current president had said the right things during the Tibetan uprising last year, and he even kept a khata from the Dalai Lama in his pocket while he was sworn in last month. But when it gets to the crunch, financial considerations will take precedence. And those dratted little carbon dioxide molecules, too.
The Times' Michael Sheridan helpfully reminds us that Secretary Clinton's interlocutor on the Chinese side is Yang Jiechi, who had confidently told foreign press last year that if any protesters showed up around the Beijing Olympics, the policy would be for the police to "offer a cup of tea" and treat them kindly. But as we all know, that never happened. Protesters were jailed, as they always are.
Gordon Chang, writing at Commentary, has the best short analysis on this that I've seen. There was an obvious deception going on, with the Chinese foreign minister crowing about the huge number of smiling faces Mrs. Clinton would see in Beijing (indicating the perfect satisfaction of the broad proletarian masses).
Yang was lying, of course. But that’s not the point. Clinton knew he was lying, and that’s not the point either. The point is that Yang knew that Clinton knew he was lying but did not challenge him. The Chinese, in short, were putting forth their version of reality and Americans were accepting it. Minister Yang knew he had just humbled the United States.She thought she could gain their good will by accepting the obvious deception, while the Chinese actually view this as a sign of weakness. The first round of the diplomatic "head game" goes to China, breathing a lot easier today.
Human rights abuses are integral to China's state machinery. Far from not allowing these "tangential" matters to interfere with the "real important stuff," the truth is that they should never be separated from the other big issues. These basic fundamentals need to be at the top, front and centre when any issue is discussed between these two countries. If this is "smart power" in the age of O, then all that's left is to Hope for some Change.
As I post this, the midnight hour has just struck in Tibet, which though west of us here in Thailand (and thus should be earlier) is actually one hour later (Tibet must keep the same hours as Beijing). A last minute check around the web turned up this, evidently posted in the first minutes of Losar, Tibet time:
Message of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Tibetan People on the Occasion of the Earth-Ox Tibetan New Year