China Bans Dalai Lama Photos
(IPS | Hong Kong | May 20, 1996)

Tibetan monks are showing solidarity with their exiled spiritual leader by vacating monasteries en masse in a show of protest against a Chinese government decision to ban the public showing of any photographs of the Dalai Lama. Sources in Lhasa and London-based Tibetan watchers told IPS by telephone today that since last week, scores of monks have walked out of the Ganden monastery, 40 kms east of the Tibetan capital, leaving the premises virtually deserted.

The monks at Ganden are reported to have told a Communist Party work team sent by Beijing to enforce last month's announced ban that they would leave en masse if the authorities enforced the new regulation.

"They appear to have carried out their threat," said Robbie Barnett of the London-based independent monitoring group Tibet Information Network (TIN).

A similar statement is reported to have been made by monks at Sera, another major Tibetan monastery visited last week by another work team seeking to enforce the Chinese ban.

According to reports reaching here, a number of monks at Sera closed the gates of the monastery in protest at the order — a move repeated at other Tibetan monasteries including Drepung, six kms West of Lhasa, and the temples of Ramoche and the Jokhang, Tibet's main temple in the heart of Lhasa.

Analysts at first believed the closures were imposed by the Chinese authorities in order to prevent unrest which broke out in Ganden in early May, from spreading to other monasteries.

But Tibetan observers now say non-cooperation by the monks is behind the closures.

TIN said the Jokhang temple was reopened after one day and Sera, Drepung and Ramoche have also reopened, according to unconfirmed reports. But only a few monks are on the premises.

At Ganden, a violent incident on May 7 was witnessed and photographed by a Western tourist when monks resisted orders to remove Dalai Lama pictures. In the shooting that ensued when Chinese authorities tried to enforce the ban, at least two monks were killed, another seriously injured by a bullet in the spine and one monk severely beaten, unconfirmed reports said.

The Tibetan government in exile issued a statement from its base in Dharamsala in Northern India on May 15 saying the government order banning the photographs "was met with strong protests from the monks" at Ganden which "resulted in a fight between the work inspection team and the monks."

Reports of the numbers arrested at Ganden vary from seven to 70 but there are now said to be a handful left at the monastery. "Now all the monks of Ganden have left the monastery and only the very young and old are still there," one source in Lhasa told IPS by telephone. Analysts believe a large number of the 500 Ganden monks have returned to their villages. A significant number are known to in hiding or have already set out to cross the Himalayan passes which lead to Nepal, from where they can escape to India. The authorities have reportedly set up a checkpoint on the road to Ganden from Lhasa preventing foreigners from taking the route to Ganden. Another violent clash with police occurred on May 14 in the Lhasa area which reports said left up to 80 people, at least 30 of them women with serious injuries, according to eyewitness accounts from the main Lhasa hospital. Sources say these incidents are also related to the photo ban. Two truckloads of wounded monks and nuns were delivered to the emergency unit of the Lhasa People's Hospital No. 1 just before midnight on May 14 accompanied by a police escort, a Japanese tourist Takeo Fujimoto who was looking after his American girlfriend in hospital that night said.

"I am one-hundred per cent sure that somebody beat them up," Fujimoto was quoted saying (May 18) on arrival in Kathmandu, the Nepali capital. "Their whole faces were sore and covered with blood and some people could not move."

Meanwhile efforts to ban photographs of the Dalai Lama has shifted to schools in Lhasa, according to reports from the Tibetan capital. Students at the city's secondary schools were reportedly summoned to meetings on May 16 where they were told that possession of Dalai Lama photographs is no longer permitted.

The children were also told they could not wear the red religious cords known as "sung du" or "protection knots." These cords include a knot tied by a lama in the course of a Buddhist ceremony and are supposed by believers to confer protection.

The order banning the cords suggests a general attack on displays of religious belief and goes further than the current campaign against the Dalai Lama, since all lamas and religious teachers tie similar cords to their followers and wearing one does not necessarily suggest a link with the spiritual leader.

The campaign against possession of photos of the Dalai Lama began 18 months ago when state employees in government accommodation were told they could not have pictures or any religious objects in their rooms.

Earlier this year certain monasteries and temples were warned that they must remove the photographs. And on Apr 5 a government instruction published in official newspapers ordered all pictures of the Dalai Lama to be removed from monasteries and temples. Officials were said to be verbally warning Tibetans that photographs of the Dalai Lama would soon be banned from private homes.

The Chinese began running Tibet in 1951, assuring that freedom of religion would be respected. But Tibetan nationalists say the Chinese went back on their word, forcing the Dalai Lama to flee Tibet in 1959. Since then, he has launched an international campaign against the "occupying" Chinese government that continues to face criticism for alleged human rights violations in suppressing the Tibetan community.


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