China: Uighur militants busted; riots in Tibet

A Chinese passenger jet en route to Beijing from the Xinjiang region (known as Uighurstan or East Turkestan to its indigenous inhabitants, the Turkic and Muslim Uighur people) was forced to make an emergency landing March 7 after the flight crew prevented at least two passengers from trying to crash the airplane, state media reported. Meanwhile, Chinese officials announced that a police raid in January against an alleged terrorist group in Xinjiang had uncovered materials that proved the group was plotting an attack on the upcoming Beijing Olympics. (IHT, March 9)

At least three and perhaps as many as nine were killed in protests in Lhasa, Tibet, March 8, including two police and a Buddhist monk. The protests were sparked by the arrest of a monk who shouted pro-independence slogans during the closing rites of the Great Prayer Festival inside the Jokhang Temple, Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest shrine. Last October, more than a dozen Tibetans were killed and some 80 monks arrested in pro-independence protests, most of whom have since been released. The Great Prayer Festival, which began Feb. 25, was boycotted by hundreds of monks in protest of the presence of nearly 2,000 armed Chinese police at the monasteries. (NYT, March 7)

Police in Dharmsala, India, March 10 barred several hundred Tibetan exiles from marching to Tibet to protest against China hosting this summer’s Olympics. The start of the planned six-month march from Dharmsala to Tibet was due to coincide with the anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule that forced the Dalai Lama and his followers into exile. Dharmsala regional police chief Atul Fulzele said an order banning the marchers from leaving the area had been issued. (The Guardian, March 11)

Tibetan activists held a torch-lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia March 10 to protest China’s rule over Tibet, but police prevented the group—dubbed Team Tibet—from entering the stadium, and the ceremony took place outside the gates of the museum. Five Tibetan women in traditional goddess dresses performed a short ceremony, lighting a torch and handing it to Tibetan shot-putter Tsultim Golpe. Police stopped Golpe as she took the torch and began her run, returning it later with the flame extinguished. She and other activists were escorted back to their hotels in Olympia by police, but there were no arrests.

Team Tibet intends for its Tibetan Freedom Torch Relay to pass through 50 cities and finish inside Tibet on Aug. 8, the day of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. “The Chinese regime will try to use the games to advance its own political agenda,” said Tendon Dahortsang, a spokeswoman for the Team Tibet. “That’s why we took the protest to Ancient Olympia.” (AP, March 10)

While we do think it is possible that Uighur militants are planning attacks on the Beijing Olympics, we also think it very likely the Chinese state is instrumenting a terror scare for strategic reasons at this moment. The immediate reason is to portray “separatists” in China’s far west as “terrorists” so as to provide the proper climate for a crackdown on the anticipated Tibetan protests in the prelude to March 10—and win cooperation from the Indians and even Greeks. The more longterm reason is to undercut Western moves to boycott or protest the Olympics by invoking a common Islamic terrorist threat. Beijing’s recent PR offensive in Darfur also fits this bill.

See our last posts on China, the Uighurs, and Tibet.

  1. More protests and repression in Tibet
    Security forces in Lhasa March 11 used tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred monks who marched to protest the detention of some 60 monks from Drepung and Sera monasteries the previous day. These constitute the largest protests in Lhasa since 1989.

    The monks who marched ten kilometers from Drepung to central Lhasa March 10 were, in turn, demanding the release of monks detained last October after they held rituals in their monasteries to celebrate the award of the US Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. A roadblock of several military vehicles of the People’s Armed Police barred their way into the city. The whereabouts of the detained monks remains unknown. A further nine monks from Sera were detained when they shouted pro-independence slogans at Lhasa’s Tsuklakhang temple.

    The monks who marched on the 11th chanted “We want freedom!” “Free our people!” “We want an independent Tibet!” and “Free our people or we won’t go back!”

    The monasteries are now surrounded by military vehicles and troops. China’s official news agency, Xinhua, quoted Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government: “More than 300 lamas entered the city proper of Lhasa in groups on March 10, but were later persuaded to leave in peace. No disturbance to social stability was caused.” Xinhua appears not to have reported the following day’s disturbances. (Phayul, Free Tibet Campaign, International Campaign for Tibet, March 11)

  2. Tibetan protesters storm Chinese embassy in Delhi
    A group of 36 women members representing six regional chapters of Tibetan Youth Congress from Northern India staged an angry protest at the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi March 12. Their faces painted with the colors of the Tibetan national flag, they “stormed” the embassy building, chanting anti-China slogans and spraying the embassy walls with “Free Tibet” and other slogans in red paint before security forces regained control. All 36—ranging in age from 16 to 60—were detained by the police, and are now on hunger strike in a Delhi police station. They are refusing bail and demanding unconditional release. Their demands are:

    No Olympics in China until Tibet is free.

    Stop forced sterilization of Tibetan women and the one-child policy.

    Stop human rights violations in Tibet.

    Immediate release of Tibetan who were arrested in recent National Uprising day in Lhasa.

    March 12 is honored by Tibetans as National Women’s Uprising Day, in remembrance of the day in 1959 when hundreds of women took to the streets of Lhasa to confront Chinese troops and scores were killed. (Phayul, March 12)

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    See our last post on sterilization abuse.

  3. Tibetans protest San Francisco’s hosting of Olympic torch
    From AP, March 12 via Asian Week:

    SAN FRANCISCO — Tibetan immigrants protesting Chinese control of the Himalayan region vowed Monday to make San Francisco, the only US city to host the Olympic torch relay, the focal point of American demonstrations against the Beijing Games.

    The protesters chanting “Olympics in China, Torture in Tibet,” and “Truth is our only weapon,” and some wiping away tears while singing the Tibet national anthem, also called on Mayor Gavin Newsom to reject the April 9 torch run and urged city officials to pass a resolution calling on China to improve conditions for Tibetans in their homeland.

    Newsom’s spokesman, Nathan Ballard, said the mayor was deeply concerned about human rights in Tibet, but believed the Olympics was not the forum to address political issues.

    “It’s important to remember that the Olympic spirit is one of international harmony and goodwill, and it transcends politics,” Ballard said. “In this spirit, San Francisco is proud to be the only North American city to host the Olympic torch relay.”