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Tibet Protests Linger Around China’s Olympics Prep

August 6, 2008 at 6:35 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Beijing today, the quick quashing of a “Free Tibet” demonstration and a reminder the Chinese government is determined to prevent the Olympics becoming an international stage for pro-Tibet sentiments.

And in the remote Qinghai province of Tibet, Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News has found that anti-Chinese sentiment remains strong five months after China suppressed anti-government demonstrations.

LINDSEY HILSUM: A lone pilgrim on a holy quest. With the eyes of the world on China for the Olympics, the government says Tibetan Buddhists are free to worship as they wish.

We found a different story at Longwu Monastery. Anti-government demonstrations, led by monks, which rocked China in the spring, started here. The authorities blame “The Dalai Clique,” in other words, the Dalai Lama.

Monks told us police and soldiers threatened them with guns and still make occasional raids. Hundreds were arrested, including the head of the monastery. We’ve disguised the monks’ identities for their safety.

TIBETAN MONK (through translator): They released the abbot recently, but he’s only allowed to be out during the daytime. They take him back in at night. We’re very afraid. What happened to us before, it can happen again.

LINDSEY HILSUM: We saw handcuff marks on one monk’s wrists. He was too scared to speak.

We visited several monasteries — I won’t say which, because the monks have put back up pictures of the Dalai Lama that government working groups, as they’re called, tore down.

As part of a patriotic education campaign, monks and other Tibetans are being forced to denounce the man they follow as a living saint. They agreed to be filmed, but we tried to hide our small camera from passersby. The monks said there are spies everywhere.

TIBETAN MONK (through translator): The government handed out a survey, asking people to choose between, A, Dalai Lama is good; and, B, Dalai Lama is bad. Many returned it blank.

It’s hard to choose. If we choose A, we get into trouble with the government, but we can’t choose B, because he’s great. He’s like our parents.

TIBETAN MONK (through translator): In my heart, the Dalai Lama is as precious as the stars and the moon in the sky. Without him, the world would be dark. I’d rather die then. I’m willing to give up my life for him. If I say anything bad about him, I won’t return as a human being in my next life.

Crackdown hit Tibetans hard

LINDSEY HILSUM: A living Buddha, Alak Khasutsang, now over 70 -- who was arrested and allegedly beaten in March -- remains in hospital in the Qinghai capital, Xining.

TIBETAN MONK (through translator): I went to see the living Buddha in the hospital about a month ago. His head was covered in a piece of cloth; it was wounded. His foot was injured, too.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Outside the monasteries, Tibetans are retelling old stories as they do every summer. The children giggle. The old rituals are rehearsed once more.

We're 1,400 kilometers from Beijing, and the Olympics feel like a world away. But the Chinese government is still worried that large gatherings of Tibetans could spoil their party.

Tibetans will be holding these local cultural and sporting festivals all through the summer. But the big horse festival, where tens of thousands of Tibetans gather from all over the region, they've been banned. The Chinese government is afraid there could be another Tibetan uprising.

Up on the Qinghai plateau, it's raining paper blessings, the traditional opening ceremony for a horse festival. The big gatherings which were cancelled would have been the Tibetan equivalent of the Olympics. There would be hundreds of horses, but here just five are under starters' orders. And they're off.

The police and military don't bother with a remote, small festival like this, but they're in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in force, to ensure absolute security throughout the country during the Olympics.

The Chinese government has beaten its Tibetan problem for the moment, but the monks are worried about what will happen after the games.

TIBETAN MONK (through translator): We're worried. We've thought they might start arresting us again. Nothing we can do. After the Olympics, they will surely crack down on us. Nothing we can do.

Let them come. It's useless to be afraid. What can we do? We will never change our heart. It's impossible to change people's heart. In the '50s, monasteries were all knocked down. It didn't change our heart. After the reform and opening, we rebuilt them.

Buddhism is in our heart. This will not change, never.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Army trucks pass along the highway. They've been delivering supplies to troops garrisoned in Lhasa. Journalists are prevented from visiting.

High on the grasslands, nomadic Tibetan women milk the yaks. It's an unchanging scene, although some long for the modern life.

They live far from the center of power. Yet, because they all follow the Dalai Lama, the authorities regard these people as a potential threat, not just to the Olympics, but to the authority of the Communist Party and the Chinese government itself.