Skip to main content

Reporter's notebook: Tibetan protests

Text by: Sébastien LE BELZIC
5 min

FRANCE 24's Sébastien Le Belzic is on assignment in Western China to cover the protests by ethnic Tibetans. Send him your questions.


Reader questions:

Q : Dear Sir, Being passionate about Tibet, I go there every year to see my friends at Kham and Amdo. What is the situation in thes regions, which no one ever talks about? Kanze, Denkho, Jyekundo, Tongeren?

Michel Gauret


A: These regions are subject to a complete media blackout by the Chinese authorities. No journalists are allowed and CCTV, Chinese television, only shows images of Lhassa, the capital. We hope the border will reopen, which would allow foreigners to enter Tibet once more.


Q: Are all monasteries blocked by the military? Tibet is still under siege; Tibetans are still fighting for their independence. Are there more than 10 deaths in the region of Aba, in Lithang? It’s great that you’re informing the world about the massacre and the oppression; very few journalists are so intrepid and I am sorry that the French government isn’t more helpful, so thank you.




A: In Lhassa itself and in several Chinese cities where there have been uprisings, such as Aba, the Chinese authorities are particularly sever and control the monasteries, as well as the Tibetan enclaves. To my knowledge, mobile phones have not been confiscated, but one can be sure they are monitored. The monasteries remain open, but the plice are never fare behind. As for the number of victims, it is quite difficult to tell you, as the information we receive from our Tibetan sources and Chinese sources are contradictory. A word on the Chinese agents infiltrating the homes of Tibetan monks; several people have confirmed the situation, which creates a certain tension in these communities.


Q: Beyond the political aspects of the originating events, I am concerned with respect to the evolution of the human conscience. How can people in the modern day be so unconcerned with themselves and fight with such real courage? Everyone should be so enlightened with respect to one another.




Q: Hello. I salute your courage and determination to bring us information. We’d like to know if there is an official death toll, be it of the demonstrators or the military? We’d also like to know the importance of these movements in the regions abutting Tibet. What is the general ambience in China on this subject? Whey can’t they solve this matter by diplomatic means?


Alan and Yuan


A: The Chinese give the death toll at 22. The Tibetans say its 100. The uprisings in the Gansou and Sichuan provinces remain minimal; it’s in Aba that the situation seems most dire.


Since then, calm appears to have been restored. I should point out that the Chinese government demonstrated force with the deployment of thousands of soldiers in these provinces and in Tibet itself. In the big Chinese cities like Chengdu, the police are also very present, but especially in the Tibetan areas.




Reporter's notebook: March 21 

Chengdu. The tension at the airport is palpable. There are unending queues at the counters. Security is especially attentive. There is even a special line for those heading to Lhasa. For the Chinese in this line, it is their first time returning home since the riots. They carry gifts and other parcels. Their faces are creased with waiting. There are no foreigners in the line.


The capital city of Szechuan has a tranquil air to it. The alcohol market has just closed in Chengdu. Hundreds of bicycles and motorbikes move along the main arteries of this large town, protected by the Himalayas only 100 kilometres away.

I have my first contact with Tibetans. Smack in the city centre, just beyond the neon restaurant signs, three roads are closed to traffic. The police are everywhere, lights flashing, in anti-riot gear.

A monk is willing to talk to us, but not here. We accompany him to his place. It’s a modest apartment which he shares with his sister. We notice the other tenants in the building are also Tibetan. The majority does not speak a word of Mandarin.

The monk shows us photos from last week. There are lots of police and soldiers. He is worried about the tension that weighs on his community but speaks with pride: “Now the police are afraid of us.” This line seems to clash with his broad smile and the picture of his spiritual leader hanging on the wall.

The next day, we take the road to Lhasa. We must convince the driver to take us there. It is prohibited. He could inform the police of our plans but he finally agrees to the trip. We can travel along 100 kilometres of highway or through an industrial park. And then over a mountain.

First checkpoint. We pass. The buses and trucks are meticulously searched. Rumour has it, the Tibetans want to blow up a hydraulic dam along the route. 200 kilos of TNT would flood the valley.

Further down the road, mixed in with trucks loaded with goods and buses, there are around ten army trucks. They are headed to the Tibetan border, driving occasionally on the wrong side of the road.

Finally, after traveling over the mountain for two hours, the last barricade appears on the right. Passport control seems to take forever. An officer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is there. They oversee the visas for journalists. He tells us to turn around and erase our tapes. We will never do the later.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Page not found

The content you requested does not exist or is not available anymore.