Tibetan national flag flying atop a cell-phone mast

The Tibetan national flag, banned by the Chinese authorities, flying atop a cell-phone mast in Tagong County in Sichuan Province. According to ICT’s source, the flag was hung on Monday March 17,and eventually taken down by Chinese police officers on Wednesday March 19. (ICT)

The wave of Tibetan protests sweeping the plateau since Drepung monks marched from their monastery on March 10 continued yesterday with the raising of a Tibetan flag on top of a cellular phone tower in Lhagang (Chinese: Tagong) in Kham (Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province). By March 18, Tibetan protests occurred in more than 20 counties, most of them in Tibetan autonomous prefectures located in Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provinces, and involving monks, laypeople and sometimes schoolchildren and elderly Tibetans.

The Chinese authorities have blocked foreign reporters from Tibetan areas, but despite severe restrictions and the knowledge of reprisals, Tibetans have succeeded in transmitting information to the outside world. China blocked access to YouTube.com on Sunday (March 16) after dozens of videos of recent protests in Tibet appeared on the popular U.S. video website.

The International Campaign for Tibet called upon world leaders to press China to allow journalists and independent observors into Tibetan areas. “To begin to diffuse the present crisis, China should ensure that an accurate account of casualties, arrests and other conditions. Access by journalists and observors is essential to this process,” said John Ackerly, President of the International Campaign for Tibet.

Monks hold incense burning, call for return of Dalai Lama in Rebgong

On Monday (March 17), according to two reports, monks of Rongwu monastery in Rebgong (Tongren County, Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province) made incense offerings while reciting prayers for the Dalai Lama. While they burnt incense, they also called for the authorities to let the Dalai Lama return to Tibet, and to “hand back the Panchen Lama and his parents to the Tibetan people.” Gendun Choekyi Nyima, recognized by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama, has been in Chinese custody in an unknown location since 1995. One source said there were as many as 200 monks present, joined by some laypeople. They were apparently deterred from taking the protest further by armed police who arrived on the scene. The same source said: “[Since earlier protests three weeks ago] the monks at Rongwu have been under heavy supervision, with security personnel stationed in their rooms, who accompany them even to go to the bathroom.”

Later, work teams were sent to visit Tibetan families and compelled them to sign pledges not to protest, and more armed police were sent to Rebgong.

Similarly, Beijing University required minority students to fill out pledges not to participate in any protests. A reliable source reported: “They were targeting Tibetan students…..who had to fill in the following details: 1. The place of the Dalai Lama in your heart; 2. the detailed address or work unit of one’s parents; 3. the student’s Identification card No; 4. the student need to pledge not to participate in any demonstration, sit-in or political activities.”

Monasteries still sealed off in Lhasa; elite People’s Liberation Army troops enter Lhasa

Xinhua news agency reported today that already 160 people had given themselves up to the police, although that could not be confirmed by independent sources. Sources reported seeing forceful detentions of Tibetans from the streets or homes; one source said that the authorities were detaining so many Tibetans that many were shackled, thrown to the ground, and left on a street corner until security personnel could collect them later.

Monks from the three main monasteries, Drepung, Sera and Ganden, who led the initial peaceful protests from March 10, have been under lockdown ever since, and are still surrounded by police in riot gear. According to two sources, their water supply has been cut off and food is difficult to obtain.

As part of the process of intimidation and crackdown, and in a similar pattern to the ‘wanted’ notices issued after the Tiananmen Square protests in June 1989, local television channels in Lhasa apparently released a list of 12 wanted Tibetans, including two monks. According to various sources, the number of Tibetans detained could be as high as 1000. Sources reported seeing Tibetans being beaten in detention. There were further reports of Tibetans being intimidated by threats and actual attacks on them by ordinary Chinese people in the city.

In an analysis of unfolding events, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington, DC, isolated the two key variables of the current situation as follows: “Whether, (1) Tibetans will maintain their efforts to protest on a significant scale in more locations than Chinese authorities can control, and if Tibetans renew the effort to protest whenever the lockdown eases; and (2) if authorities begin to utilize more aggressive security measures to deal with protestors, or if authorities quietly start detaining and imprisoning key actors in the protests over the coming days, weeks, and months. If either happens, the situation could worsen and spread in unpredictable ways.” (www.cecc.gov)

The CECC concluded that a repeat of the imposition of martial law was not likely, as the authorities “likely will want this to subside without roiling the domestic or international scene in the run-up to the Olympics. Declaration of martial law in Lhasa would come at considerable cost to Chinese officials if calls for an Olympic boycott intensify as a result.”

A defence analysis publication reported that some of the ground forces deployed in Lhasa during the crackdown of the last few days were elite squads from the People’s Liberation Army in addition to People’s Armed Police troops. Writing in Kanwa Defence Review, an on-line magazine on East Asian security, defense, diplomacy and weapons technology development, the analyst reported: “[Images] show that the new T90 APCs and T92 wheeled armoured vehicles belonging to the elite ground force units appeared on the streets of Lhasa in the same day of the crackdown. These equipments have never been deployed in China’s armed police before.” (www.kanwa.com). The analysis concluded: “To cover up the involvement of regular armed forces in the crackdown, all of the above armoured vehicles are seen using a piece of white cloth to cover the traditional red star mark of the PLA Army, and the red stars painted on the steel helmets of the troops were also erased. The fact that the trump rapid reaction combat units of Chengdu Military Region entered Lhasa at such a fast pace deserves high attention. Moreover, the troops entered Lhasa with heavy equipment. This author’s analysis is that the newly built Tibet railroad has given China the capability to transport troops very rapidly.”

Elite squads from the People's Liberation Army appeared on the streets of Lhasa

Elite squads from the People’s Liberation Army appeared on the streets of Lhasa on the same day the crackdown began. The PLA markings on the back of their vehicles were kept covered. Stars painted on the steel helmets of the troops were also erased.

Tourists’ reports: cameras confiscated, witnesses to police beating monks

A female tourist from eastern Europe contacted ICT today to report that she had been to Labrang monastery, the scene of large-scale protests by monks and laypeople on March 16, and seen police “beating monks and old women right in front of me — I still cry just thinking about it”. She left the area, traveling towards Machu county town in Qinghai where she then witnessed and photographed the aftermath of protests on March 18 when government and police buildings were attacked and set on fire on March 18. In Machu, she was apprehended by police who confiscated her camera and deleted all of her pictures. However, pictures of the destruction in Machu have since emerged through another source and are circulating widely on the Internet.

She told ICT that she was driven away from Machu in a jeep “to the other side of the province” and kept at a police station for four hours, and that police took copies of her passport. She contacted ICT from Xining, the provincial capital of Qinghai (Amdo) where she said she seemed to be the only foreigner in the city, and that she was closely followed everywhere she went.

Despite her experiences she wanted to remain in Tibet, but said she was only allowed to buy tickets for journeys east, away from Tibet. “I’m in Xining now and heading for Xi’an tomorrow,” she said. “I can’t handle it anymore and they finally made me leave.”

A Canadian postal worker in his fifties who stayed in the Barkhor area during his 18-day trip to Tibet gave ICT the following day by day testimony of his visit. Eyewitness testimonies received by ICT in the last few days counter the assertion by Tibet Autonomous Region governor Jampa Phuntsog that there had been “no gunfire” in Lhasa.

Friday 14th March

“Day one the police ran away and the Tibetans had free rein. On the first day there was no looting, they ripped off the metal shutters of all the Chinese establishments and threw out all the goods into the middle of the street and set fire to them. I noticed bronze statues and turquoise beads and stones in the middle of the street. There was nobody taking things, they were just destroying things. Around 11am I saw an apple cart up turned, a Tibetan was throwing empty soda cans and the Chinese vendor looked around for help and could see none, he was alone, so he ran away.

I saw a dead body, Tibetan. I was standing at the approach to the alley to our hotel , very near to Barkor square and I saw a group of three or four Tibetans carrying a lifeless body, they came very close and I saw his face and I saw that he was dead, his face was white, dead. They took him up the alley to a gompa. Tibetans asked me if I was a photographer and if I would take photographs, but my camera was in my room. I went up to my room to get them but by then he was gone.

We went to sleep, the police were no where to be seen.

Saturday 15th

We woke up in the morning to see the army with tanks, pointing their barrels down the alley where we stayed. There was looting and we were locked down in the hotel without food and we were scavenging a bit.

Sunday 16th

I had to walk into the streets to make some arrangements, I was alone, I had to go to the Bank of China by the Potala Palace. It was open. Air China was closed. Many businesses were open, the day before everything had been closed. On the 16th morning I saw Chinese platoons with brooms sweeping up. You would walk another block and there would be other platoons sweeping. I noticed army with stars on their uniforms, they were supervising sidewalk tables where Chinese people with stethoscopes were performing health checks on people, including Tibetans. No one stopped to check me as I was walking. I crossed one intersection with six soldiers and one challenged me but I walked on and they did not persist.

[Final night spent in an airport hotel before leaving for Kathmandu.]”

Eyewitness account of peaceful demonstration at Sera monastery

“There, sitting in the middle of the road were approximately 200 to 300 monks, sitting in rows on the ground, forming a neat square. Surrounding them were two rows of army on all four sides.”

The tourist, who was staying at the Yak Hotel from March 8 to their departure to Kathmandu on March 15, told ICT that they were held for questioning for three hours after witnessing the demonstration at Sera monastery on March 11.

“On Monday March 10th we (two people on a one week tour) went to the Jokhang temple, things were normal. On Tuesday 11th we went to Drepung monastery in the morning in a tourist jeep with our guide, I noticed 50 or more army trucks lining the side of the road near to the monastery. The trucks were the ones that carry soldiers, with canvas covers. Beside them on the roadside were soldiers standing eating rice, as though they had been stationed there for some time. Our guide said there was some problem. In the distance I could just see military standing holding [riot] shields. We turned around and went to visit the Norbulinka [former summer palace of the Dalai Lama] instead. A few tourists were there and everything seemed normal.

We reached the Yak Hotel around 11.30 am, I went to the hotel’s internet caf? to check my emails. At 2.30 the jeep came to take us to visit Sera monastery.

At Sera the guide paid our ticket, and things appeared normal. There was a bus with I think Korean tourists. There was one other foreign individual tourist. We visited the first temple on the left side of the main entrance road way that leads into the complex. It is near the debate garden. There were five monks in the garden. We walked into the temple and after five minutes some monks came in the said we had to leave the temple, we walked into the debate garden, and our guide said there was no debate today because the monks had gone outside. We crossed the road and visited another temple, this was also closed. Our guide then took us into a kitchen where we sat drinking butter tea for almost an hour. We came out around 4 pm, took some photos. There were three monks beside the road. The bus carrying the Koreans seemed to have gone. We walked down the road towards our jeep. It was parked in the road inside the monastery complex, after the entrance where you pay your ticket.

As we came close to our jeep we saw monks at the entrance gateway, 30 to 40 monks who were pushing forward against four rows of police who were stretched across the entrance way, with seven or eight police in each row with linked arms. They had formed a barrier to prevent the monks from leaving and had blue uniforms. We were stuck because our vehicle could not drive out. Our guide told us not to take photos, after 20 minutes he went to ask a policeman if we could go out. There seemed to be one Tibetan man mediating with the monks, he was talking to them. A number of locals were standing around watching the monks pushing forward against the police cordon. There were police in plain clothes who were filming and photographing everyone and everything including us. We sat in our vehicle for an hour or so waiting.

Two police one in lay clothes – one in light blue clothes – came up to us. They both spoke English. They told us we could leave but that we had to show them our photos. So we left our vehicle and driver, the police pushed a path through the monks and the police cordon. Once on the other side we sat on a chair while the plain clothed police looked through all my 400+ photos, they did not erase any. They photographed our passports and visas. We then saw around 60 soldiers running holding shields and sticks; they stood ten feet behind the four rows of police cordons who were pushing against the monks.

We started to walk, past the military, outside the monastery entrance, we walked around to the left. There, sitting in the middle of the road were approximately 200 to 300 monks, sitting in rows on the ground, forming a neat square. Surrounding them were two rows of army on all four sides. They had shields, sticks and some had weapons slung over their shoulders. The monks were shouting, chanting – it sounded like a football stadium it was so loud. [The tourist does not speak Tibetan, so was unable to give a translation of what was being said].

We carried on walking up the main road, got into a car with the two police and drove back to the hotel. At every crossroads on the way back into Lhasa we could see that the side roads leading into the main thoroughfare of the intersections were closed. We passed army trucks headed in our direction. We turned into the street our hotel is in (Beijing Lu) and all seemed normal. The police left us there; we sat chatting in the lobby for 45 minutes. At 5.45pm the Tibetan manager of our Travel Agency came with two police, again in plain clothes and speaking English. They were very polite and asked us to come to the police station with our guide, saying, ‘we have to ask you some questions’. They took us to a police station, on the way everything in the streets seemed normal. We spent three hours there. After 30 minutes the police who took us from the hotel left and the police we had been with at the monastery came. Our guide was very nervous. They asked us where we had visited, when we planned to leave Tibet. They wrote down everything we said. They made copies. They looked at my friend’s digital phone to see what pictures were there. They copied our passports and visa again. We were left alone in the room. One strange thing – there was a telephone on the table, it had a digital display. We checked the time and we had been there for 2 hours 45 minutes, then I noticed the telephone display said the same thing 2.45. I watched it and the digital display was showing minutes ticking over. I suspect it was a tape recorder they switched on when we came into the room. They took us to another office, saying that it would be a warmer place. Then they took us to a restaurant where other police were eating. We sat at one table, and the police sat behind us. They said it would take longer because the papers they wrote had to go to one official to be signed. Then a woman came into the restaurant and said that we could go now.

We took a taxi back to the hotel around 10.30 pm. I was told that the internet in the hotel had been checked. I had a bag inside my room, I noticed that something I had placed inside the bag had been moved, the bag had not moved but one item inside it was moved. I think someone searched my room.”

Foreign tourists fired upon by Chinese troops

A 44 year old Australian who has been living in India for 11 years gave ICT the following account of PAP troops turning their guns upon him and a fellow male traveler.

Friday, March 14

“At 11 am, from the hotel’s first floor, we observed monks and Tibetans coming into the Barkor square. There were khatags [traditional Tibetan blessing scarves] being thrown in anger, and then it very quickly escalated out of control and Chinese people were running with their fruit trolleys and being stoned, windows were being smashed. There was a hamburger joint, it was completely trashed so quickly it was unbelievable. People were running for their lives, we were asked after some time to leave the restaurant; we had to climb down over the back roof and we got down to like a car park area at the back. It seemed like a safe place to be but all the gates were locked, we had to walk into some buildings, one guy there unlocked the door and we went back out into it. There were many incidents over that period, and an amazing amount of looting as well; I saw Tibetans putting on shoes, putting on jackets, stealing jewelry.

In the afternoon of the next day, there were a lot of fires all throughout the streets, all the wares coming out of the stores thrown into the road and set on fire. There were fires everywhere. There were no Chinese military on the streets, only Tibetans, and a very highly charged atmosphere.

A young Tibetan was being carried, he was dead, pale faced, he had three bullet wounds, exit wounds in his back and his t shirt was pulled up. They took him straight to a very small gompa [temple] right behind where we were staying and then we never saw him again. All the Tibetans saying photo, photo, photo, it was a very radical thing to see. We did not have a camera with us.

We walked towards the Barkor square, and around 30 Chinese troops were there, with four Tibetan women amongst them. The women had been arrested., and the soldiers were walking in formation with the women in the middle. Then some people approached us, they were agitated, gesticulating, we walked very quickly towards two burning vehicles and I hid behind a burning vehicle. Then people were screaming and a volley of gunfire went up and two or three other Tibetan guys were in the area and we ran like hell up the street the main shopping street towards where we were staying. And that’s no mean feat at 12,000 feet above sea level, especially for a 57 year old.

It was live ammunition. It was not tear gas, it was gunfire. There was no question about it, nor any question whether they were firing it over our heads or not. I remember this young Tibetan guy about my height who was running like hell for his life and so was I. I thought “Oh God, I am going to cop one in the back”. I got to a slightly safer area way up the street panting.

On March 14, there was no evidence of police. There was a fire truck close by just up another road and they were putting out major fires in buildings. There were troops with shields and batons but it was difficult to see because of all the smoke.

On the morning of the 15th and 16th, just for about one hour or so they allowed the Chinese to come back in to retrieve any salvageable goods and have a look around at their property. Then they were ushered away. Some of them were covered with dried blood from the night before. I helped one Chinese get her bicycle out of the rubble and she had dried blood all down the side of her face. She did not want to wash it off – she wanted the Chinese troops to understand that these people were being beaten and persecuted.

On Saturday (March 15), there was heavy artillery and gunfire. What seemed like thousands of army troops came in the day after that.”