A group of prominent Chinese lawyers and legal scholars have released a research report arguing that the Tibetan riots and protests of March last year were rooted in legitimate grievances brought about by failed government policies — and not through a plot of the Dalai Lama.
The lengthy paper is the result of interviews conducted over a month in two Tibetan regions. It represents the first independent investigation into the causes of the widespread protests, which the Chinese government harshly suppressed and blamed on the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and other Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala.
The government has quashed the expression of any dissenting opinions on the causes of the protests. The research paper was quietly posted last month on Chinese Web sites, and an English translation was released last week by the International Campaign for Tibet, a group based in Washington.
The authors of the report are members of a Chinese group called Gongmeng, or Open Constitution Initiative, which seeks to promote legal reform. Lawyers in the group also tried to file lawsuits on behalf of families whose babies suffered in the tainted milk scandal last year, and two members have defended Tibetans in court this year.
The authors of the report concluded that Chinese government policies had promoted a form of economic modernization in Tibet that had left many Tibetans feeling increasingly disenfranchised over the decades. The researchers found that Tibetans had enormous difficulty finding work in their homeland, while ethnic Han migrants seem to have a monopoly on jobs in restaurants, hotels and stores.
When violent rioting broke out in Lhasa on March 14 last year, after four days of peaceful protests, businesses owned by Chinese were looted and burned. At least 19 people were killed, most of them Han.
“An important perspective for interpreting the 3/14 incident is that it was reaction made under stress by a society and people to the various changes that have been taking place in their lives over the past few decades,” the report said. “The notion that appears impossible to understand is the implication that reasonable demands were being vented, and this is precisely what we need to understand and reflect upon.”
“When the land you’re accustomed to living in, and the land of the culture you identify with, when the lifestyle and religiosity is suddenly changed into a ‘modern city’ that you no longer recognize; when you can no longer find work in your own land, and feel the unfairness of lack of opportunity, and when you realize that your core value systems are under attack, then the Tibetan people’s panic and sense of crisis is not difficult to understand,” the report said.
The report also cast blame on the governing structure in Tibetan regions, saying that there had been problems adapting Tibetan culture and society to the “ruling state’s systems.” It also criticized Beijing for installing incompetent Tibetan local officials who, the researchers said, play up the threat of separatist movements to acquire more power and money from Beijing.
Xu Zhiyong (??, a member of Gongmeng, said in a telephone interview that the report had been submitted to the government, but that there had been no response.
Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama accused China on Saturday of imposing a “death sentence” on Tibet, as he arrived in Paris for a visit.
He was to be named an honorary citizen of the French capital yesterday, despite warnings from the Chinese government that his trip will harm relations with France.