Imprisoned and harassed: monks tell

Mary-Anne Toy
March 29, 2008

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MONKS across the greater Tibetan region of western China have been locked inside their quarters by thousands of Chinese security forces but, risking jail or worse, monks from two monasteries in the region have volunteered to tell their story to the world.

Evading police checkpoints to gain access to the monasteries, a foreign photographer found at least 10 Tibetan monks prepared to give their testimony.

One of them said they were confined to their quarters even before they heard about the protests by other monks in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, beginning on March 10, which spread to the neighbouring Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan.

"We want independence of Tibet," he said. "Even if the Chinese kill us all, would there be only one Tibetan left, we would still want independence of Tibet."

Another monk said he was afraid. "The Chinese Communist Party always harassed us. Sporadically, the police raids the monastery and takes somebody out for custody, but this, never."

There is a heavy police presence in the small town surrounding the monastery; armed soldiers control all entry points and most of the Chinese-owned businesses are shuttered.

But inside the centuries-old monastery, banned portraits of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader reviled by Beijing, are defiantly displayed in at least three prayer rooms. Some monks decline to speak, others are eager to let the world know how they feel.

Another monk said Chinese Government harassment had been constant.

"The situation is worse than five years ago. Each time that we speak we have to be careful."

Another said: "We don't have freedom, we don't have power." Tenzing Andrugstshang said they longed for the day that the Dalai Lama could "come home" and Tibetans would have "our own country".

At another small monastery, a police camera has been installed in a prayer room to prevent political gatherings. Monks here are too afraid to speak, let alone be photographed.

On Thursday about 30 young monks at Lhasa's Jokhang Temple interrupted an official Chinese Government briefing of foreign journalists on a tightly controlled Beijing propaganda trip. They told reporters the Government was lying about the recent unrest.

However, the state news agency Xinhua quoted a senior Government official as saying the monks were the ones spreading untruths.

"They were attempting to mislead the world's opinion," said Baema Chilain, the vice-chairman of the Chinese-controlled Tibet Autonomous Region. But in an effort to allay fears of repercussions he said they would not be punished for their outburst.

The monastery monks who agreed to speak for this article did so on the basis that their identity was not revealed and that our report was not published in China. The Herald is also not posting their pictures online. The locations of the monasteries is being kept secret to provide the monks with some protection. If they are punished few outsiders can bear witness, since the photographer who took these pictures and recorded their words, Servais Mont, was arrested and evicted from the area.

Yesterday police arrived at his home in China to question him.

Also yesterday an Australian diplomat from the embassy in Beijing flew to Lhasa as part of a delegation of foreign diplomats for an overnight visit after the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, publicly called on China to allow outside observers into Tibet.