The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Video: A rare glimpse inside Tibet at a time of unwelcome change

Placeholder while article actions load

(Editor's note: Some images in the video may be disturbing to viewers.)

Western reporters have had scant access to the Chinese province of Tibet since 2008, when a series of protests and riots calling for greater autonomy coincided with the Beijing Olympics. China, wanting to tamp down the protests and avoid more international criticism, shut down most foreign access to Tibet. The rise of self-immolations by Tibetans has not made Beijing any more eager to open up the province, which is being flooded by Chinese migrants from the ethnic Han majority.

It was a big deal, then, when France24 reporter Cyril Payen secured a visa to visit the province. He interviewed a number of Tibetans, who spoke with surprising candor about Chinese oppression, a lack of religious freedoms and a fear that inflowing Chinese migrants will erase their ancient culture. Payen says the Tibetan capital of Lhasa feels like "an Orwellian world of surveillance, like a city under occupation."

"We don't have any freedoms or human rights today," a young activist tells the reporter, agreeing to meet only for a moment in a busy market. She says of her Buddhist belief that the Dalai Lama is sacred, "If we said that, then we would be put in jail."

Payen also visits the construction around the Jokhang Temple, a U.N. world heritage site that is considered the most sacred building in Tibet. Controversially, Chinese officials are building a shopping plaza there, part of a larger construction boom in Lhasa that activists say is destroying the city's heritage.

The reporter also visits with a Tibetan monk who says he's afraid to leave the monastery. Payen signs off by calling the Tibetan capital "a shadow of what it once was."