Tibet's Religious Life Still Bruised By Lhasa Riots

February 13, 2009

Author: Emma Graham-Harrison

Source: International Herald Tribune

Wire Service: Reuters


Buddhist monasteries have reopened to the devout in Tibet's regional capital, but nearly a year after monks' protests sparked deadly riots, officials keep a tight grip on traditional hotbeds of discontent.

At the historic Drepung monastery, on Lhasa's outskirts, three or four monks were removed for their role in the violence.

Security forces moved out of the monastery when visitors were allowed back in around four months after the unrest. But there are army barracks, police cars and a checkpoint on the road up to what was once just a centre of Buddhist study.

Inside, monks take patriotic education classes on Chinese law, alongside their Buddhist scripture studies, and were kept closeted away from visiting foreign journalists on a rare and tightly controlled government visit on Thursday.

At the ancient Jokhang, the only other Lhasa monastery the reporting group was allowed to visit, there were the same classes on law. Rank and file monks were absent -- perhaps because a few last year burst into a similar media tour to shout protests.

On March 14 last year, Lhasa erupted into riots that spilt over into ethnically Tibetan areas across the Himalayan plateau. A Tibetan crowd burnt shops belonging to Han Chinese and Hui Muslims, killing 19 people.

Religion is at the heart of both Tibetan life and the Chinese government's political problems in the restive region, 50 years after Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India following an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.

Controls on religion and resentment over the condemnation of the Dalai Lama have made monasteries a breeding ground for anti-China sentiment. Discontent broke into protests in 1989 and again last year.