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In China, An Appeal For Change On Tibet
30 Intellectuals Urge Government to Rethink Its Response to Protests

By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 23, 2008

BEIJING, March 22 -- A group of 30 Chinese intellectuals appealed to the Chinese government Saturday to admit that its policy of crushing dissent in Tibet and blaming the ensuing violence on the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was failing.

"The one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation," the group said in an open letter posted on Boxun.com, a Web site for overseas Chinese. It was the first time a Chinese group had publicly urged the country's leaders to rethink their response to two weeks of protests in Tibetan areas across western China.

The government's response to the Tibetan protests is a highly sensitive topic in China, and few people are willing to be quoted questioning its actions. Many of the 30 people who signed the open letter are regular contributors to Web sites and blogs that provide alternative views of government policies. One other regular contributor, Hu Jia, went on trial this week on charges of incitement to subvert state power for posts he made on Boxun.com and comments in interviews with foreign media. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.

Dissident author Wang Lixiong is the first name on the petition. He and his wife, Tibetan poet and essayist Tsering Woeser, have been under house arrest in Beijing since the protests began, Wang told Radio Free Asia on Friday.

The Chinese government-controlled media, after initial silence on the protests, has provided extensive coverage focusing on a March 14 riot in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

A 15-minute documentary that aired Thursday on state-run television includes footage of marauding gangs of Tibetan rioters beating Chinese and torching motorcycles; men in monks' robes hurling rocks at police in riot gear, who turn and run; and interviews with injured survivors describing the attacks from their hospital beds. There are no images of the protests led by Buddhist monks against Chinese rule in Tibet that began March 10 and were broken up by police.

The official broadcasts and newspaper reports say the government has evidence that a Dalai Lama "clique" is behind the violence. "Just look how well prepared the rioters were: backpacks of rocks, inflammable liquid or self-made petrol bombs. They all shouted 'Tibet independence' and many of them waved the flag of the 'Tibetan government in exile,' " according to an official New China News Agency commentary published Thursday.

The official media accuse foreign journalists of biased and inaccurate reporting, and the Chinese government has gone to great lengths to prevent foreign journalists from reporting at protest scenes. The government has also blocked access in China to the Web site YouTube, where several videos of the violence are posted.

The Web petition offers 12 suggestions for ways to handle the situation, which include giving independent media access to conflict areas. "Only by adopting an open attitude can we turn around the international community's distrust of our government," it said.

The petition asks the government to protect freedom of speech and worship, "thereby allowing the Tibetan people fully to express their grievances and hopes, and permitting citizens of all nationalities freely to criticize and make suggestions regarding the government's nationality policies."

It also urges the government to open a new dialogue with the Dalai Lama or otherwise reveal any evidence it has to back up charges that the violence was a plot by him to split Tibet from China.

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