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Torch Relay in Tibet: Spectacle over Substance

June 20, 2008


Human Rights in China is deeply concerned by the Chinese authorities' decision to send the Olympic torch through the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on Saturday. This leg of the relay was originally scheduled for June 19 to 21, but in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, Beijing officials announced this week that the relay would be cut to one day—June 21.

This provocative decision—with the blessing of the International Olympic Committee—could aggravate tensions and undermine the fragile process to find a peaceful long-term solution for Tibet and the region.
— Sharon Hom, Executive Director of HRIC

"This provocative decision—with the blessing of the International Olympic Committee—could aggravate tensions and undermine the fragile process to find a peaceful long-term solution for Tibet and the region," said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom. "The government's insistence on parading the torch through Lhasa can only undermine the respect and trust required for a genuine dialogue process with the Dalai Lama."

Tibet was swept by protests in mid-March that were violently suppressed by security forces. With the region flooded by security forces and largely sealed-off to tourists and journalists following the March demonstrations, taking the torch to Tibet is a highly politicized gesture of control that sharply contradicts the authorities' previous insistence that the "Olympic Games should not be about politics."

Authorities have announced that a limited number of international and domestic journalists will be permitted to travel to Lhasa from Friday until Sunday to report on the relay, according to state news agency Xinhua. While the media group includes 29 overseas news organizations, Xinhua said the media representatives would also be covering "the social and economic development of Tibet Autonomous Region" during their visit.

However, the recent experience of foreign media in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) earlier this week raises serious doubts regarding the ability of media professionals to report independently from Lhasa or the region. In the XUAR, foreign journalists were bussed to the site of the torch relay, and restricted to designated areas at the opening and closing ceremonies. It remains to be seen whether reporting on "social and economic development" will include reports on the underlying causes of the demonstrations and protests—the failure of official policies in Tibet that has resulted in severe social and economic inequalities, exclusion from effective political participation for ethnic groups, and repression of cultural and religious expression.

For additional information, see:

  • Incorporating Responsibility 2008, an Olympics Campaign by Human Rights in China, http://www.ir2008.org.
  • For additional information, see: