Reporters Without Borders deplores the Chinese government’s lack of goodwill towards foreign journalists trying to visit Tibet and its repressions of Tibetans who dare to talk about what has happened to them. A Tibetan monk, for example, was arrested three days ago after speaking openly in a video and answering a foreign journalist’s questions about the torture he underwent in prison.
“The simple fact that the freedom of movement and freedom to interview granted to foreign journalists are not been applied in Tibet shows that a state of exception still exists in the province,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The foreign journalists who have managed to get into Tibet confirm that a heavy military and police presence has imposed a climate of fear for most Tibetans. The news blackout is designed to prevent journalists from carrying out an independent evaluation of the toll from last March’s unrest.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We above all urge the Chinese government to allow foreign journalists to travel freely to Tibet. The government must also, as a matter of urgency, release all Tibetans held for expressing their views or for providing information about the situation in the province.”
Jigme Guri, a Buddhist monk at Labrang monastery (in Gansu province) was arrested by about 50 police and soldiers on 4 November after recording a video in which he spoke openly about the torture to which he was submitted after being arrested in March. He also answered an Associated Press reporter’s questions in September, explaining how he was hung by his arms and beaten to make him confess to leading the March protests in Labrang. The authorities have not provided any information about him since his second arrest.
The Chinese authorities announced on 17 October that rules allowing foreign journalists freedom of movement and freedom to interview would remain in force. But these rules do not apply to the Tibetan region, which the press can only visit after obtaining the agreement of the local authorities. Very few of such permits are given to foreign reporters.
In August, Agence France-Presse reporters tried to visit the Tibetan region of Garze, in Sichuan province, where soldiers had opened fire on demonstrators a short while before. They managed to get as far as Kangding, but it proved impossible to continue to Garze. On the instructions of the authorities, all drivers were refusing to take foreigners there. The reporters saw a significant military presence in both the cities and the countryside, and strict police control around Buddhist temples.
There are many police controls around Tibet and provinces with a Tibetan population, as well as around the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, where a permit has to be obtained in order to travel to Shigatse or Gyantse.
No foreign journalist has been able to cover the trials of Tibetans accused of participating in the March riots. According to a recent statement by a Chinese official, at least 55 people have been given prison sentences.
Several foreign journalists have told Reporters Without Borders it has become much harder to work in Tibet since the riots. “Far fewer people dare to talk now,” said a European journalist who went to Tibet in August.” “And investigating what happened in March is an ordeal. You can read the fear on their faces.” Like the other journalists, she travelled to Tibet on tourist visa.
“The massive army and police presence and the cameras installed in many parts of the city create a general feeling of mistrust and paranoia,” another European reporter said. “The Tibetans know they are taking a big risk if they talk to a foreigner.”
A journalist who recently returned from Lhasa said: “Many of the people living in Lhasa are convinced there are microphones and cameras at street corners, in the shops and in taxis. Everyone is suspected of being an informer so they avoid answering questions. People are less afraid in the rural areas.”
She added: “Some monasteries are almost empty. It is easy to see that certain monks and guards are there to keep you under surveillance. They try to prevent direct conversations with foreigners.”
Tibetan writer and blogger Woeser also described this climate of fear during a visit to Lhasa in August, before she was arrested and forced to leave Tibet.
Although some Internet cafés in Lhasa allow foreigners to visit them, websites such as Facebook are often inaccessible. A Tibet specialist living in France said Tibetan online chat forums are much less active since then March events.
It has meanwhile been reported that Ludrup Phuntsok, a 23-year-old monk living at Achog Tsenyi monastery in Ngaba, was sentenced on 28 October to 13 years in prison for helping to edit the book “Mahseng Zhedra.” Three other monks at the same monastery received prison sentences for unknown reasons. Documentary filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen and local TV presenter Washu Rangjong are still being held without trial.