Page last updated at 16:32 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 17:32 UK

China keeping tight grip on Tibet

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, China

Chinese paramilitary police patrol Lhasa, Tibet, on 27 March 2008
Chinese officials say little about what is happening in Tibet

China appears to be maintaining a tight grip over Tibetan areas, nearly three months after a series of anti-Beijing protests and riots.

The government suggests life in areas inhabited by Tibetans is returning to normal, but evidence suggests otherwise.

Security is tight, Tibetans face travel restrictions, and monks and nuns have been forced to attend re-education classes.

Chinese tourists are once again being allowed to visit the Himalayan region, but not many are making the trip.

Foreigners are banned. It is difficult to get information about what is going on in Tibet and nearby provinces that are home to large numbers of Tibetans.

Chinese central and local government officials - who keep a tight rein on information at the best of times - are saying little.

Back to normal?

The Tibetan Autonomous Region's foreign affairs office did not respond to a series of faxed questions from the BBC about the current situation.

The region's Public Security Bureau also failed to reply to requests for information.

Dalai Lama in Nottingham, England, on 24 May 2008
Nuns have been forced to denounce the Dalai Lama, it is claimed

David Kramer, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, got a similar response when he visited China last week.

He was in Beijing to discuss human rights issues with Chinese officials, and directly asked for an update on the latest developments in Tibet.

He appeared to get little out of his Chinese counterparts.

"We did not get information on numbers [of people arrested]," he told journalists.

Despite the lack of verifiable information, the government-controlled media gives the impression that life is returning to normal.

One recent article in the English-language China Daily said Tibet was expecting tourists to flock back to sites such as Lhasa's Potala Palace.

But they appear not to be going back in significant numbers.

One top travel agent has not sent a single tour group since the unrest broke out; another is offering discounts.

Information from other sources also suggests life has not returned to normal in Tibetan areas.

Smoke in Lhasa after Tibetan riots on 14 March 2008
The death toll from March's Tibetan protests could be as high as 250

Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile, said China is restricting the lives of ordinary people.

"At the moment, we are receiving very little information. There are restrictions on telephone calls into Tibet and coming out," he said.

The spokesman, based in Dharamsala, India, said Beijing officials had also stopped ordinary Tibetans from leaving China for Nepal and India.

He added that occasional protests by monks and nuns were continuing - even if they were quickly stopped by Chinese security forces.

Angry nuns

The Free Tibet Campaign said 54 nuns were arrested a few weeks ago after staging a protest in Garze County in Sichuan Province.

It said the nuns were angry because they were being forced to denounce the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader.

Renouncing the Dalai Lama - who lives in exile in India - appears part of a general re-education campaign being forced on monks and nuns.

One Tibetan monk, who lives at a monastery in southern Gansu Province, told the BBC he attended re-education sessions every other day.

Tibetan monk
The unrest has triggered pro-Tibet protests around the world

"Communist Party officials talk to us about how to love our county [China]," he said.

The monk said the situation in his town was relatively calm, but the People's Armed Police was maintaining a visible presence.

"The police question and beat any Tibetan they want. I have seen this with my own eyes," he said.

Spokesman Thubten Samphel fears the Chinese are increasing the amount of repression - free from the prying eyes of outsiders.

Foreign reporters are banned from going to Tibet and other Tibetan areas, and there is no word on when that ban will be lifted.


There are also roadblocks on highways leading into Tibet.

The Chinese crackdown follows unrest that began in Lhasa on 10 March.

Monks from several monasteries began a series of protests to mark the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

These protest turned into riots, during which Tibetans targeted Han Chinese people who had moved into Lhasa.

Tibetan students living in India hold a rally on 28 May 2008
Rights groups dispute China's claims Tibetans have received fair trials

China says 18 innocent civilians and one police officer died in the riots.

The Tibetan government-in-exile said about 250 died, most of whom were Tibetans killed in the ensuing crackdown.

Over the last couple of months, hundreds of Tibetans have been arrested, with the first batch of 30 tried and jailed earlier this month.

China said they received fair trials, but this is contested by Tibetans abroad and human rights organisations.

Even on this one issue, there is no agreement on the facts of what is currently going on in Tibet.

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