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After Chinese Re-education, Monk Regrets Action

July 2, 2010

The New York Times
June 29, 2010

LHASA, Tibet -- The young monk once again found
himself in front of microphones and television cameras.

It was much the same as on March 28, 2008, when
the monk, Norgye, and dozens of fellow monks
barged into a temple chamber where foreign
journalists were being escorted around by Chinese
government officials. The monks had then cried
out, “Tibet is not free.” This time, on Tuesday,
Norgye had a different message: he had been
punished through patriotic re-education, and he had repented.

"I wasn’t beaten or tortured," he said. "We had
to learn more about the law. Through education
about the law, I realized what we had done in the
past was wrong and was against the law."

Norgye, 29, who like many Tibetans goes by one
name, was speaking in the ancient inner sanctum
of Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple, the holiest shrine in
Tibetan Buddhism. During the 10-minute interview,
he was watched carefully by government employees
from Beijing and Lhasa, as well as by Laba, an
older monk who was the director of the temple’s
administrative office. They were the escorts for
a group of foreign journalists who were on a
tightly scripted, five-day government tour of the
Tibet Autonomous Region, which is usually closed to foreign journalists.

The manner in which the interview was monitored,
with Laba interrupting several times as Norgye
spoke, reflected the Chinese government’s anxiety
about anything in Tibet that contradicts the official line.

Norgye was not part of the scripted tour; Laba
had called him after the journalists insisted on
meeting with one of the monks who had protested
in the Jokhang on March 28, 2008. That protest
had taken place after deadly ethnic rioting led
by Tibetans had broken out in the large square
outside the Jokhang, in the middle of the
bustling Barkhor market, on March 14. What began
in Lhasa quickly became an uprising across the Tibetan plateau.

"I didn’t know anything at that time," Norgye said of the March 28 protest.

He said the monks protested because security
forces had kept them locked inside the Jokhang
during the March 14 protest. "The authorities
made all the monks stay in the temple," he said. "We wanted to go outside."

One monk did complain to the journalists on the
March 2008 tour that security forces had kept the
117 monks of the temple locked up since March 10.
On that day, monks around Lhasa, the Tibetan
capital, held a rally on the 49th anniversary of
an uprising that had led to the exile of the
Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader. Those
peaceful protests led to rioting that began four days later.

Then came the journalists’ tour, and the
incendiary statements by 30 monks in the Jokhang
who had suddenly burst in on the journalists:
"The government is telling lies; it’s all lies,"
and, "They killed many people," the monks said,
according to reporting by an Associated Press correspondent on the trip.

Patriotic re-education -- hours of classes on the
law and Communist thought -- was ordered for many
monks like Norgye following the March uprising.
Monks were told to denounce the Dalai Lama. The
authorities emptied rebellious monasteries, and some monks fled to India.

On Tuesday, asked by reporters whether Tibetans
have religious freedom, Norgye said, "Yes," with a quiet voice and bowed head.

The Chinese government forbids all worship of the
Dalai Lama, who lives in India. Photos of the Dalai Lama are banned.

Norgye was asked whether there was freedom to
worship the Dalai Lama. He replied, "It’s freedom
for one person to believe or not to believe."
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