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Tibetan temple fire: Activists say damages could be worse than reported

China’s official news agency, Xinhua said on Sunday the temple is now open amid concerns that it was damaged in the fire that engulfed large parts of it.

world Updated: Feb 19, 2018 19:22 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
The Jokhang temple at Lhasa, a UNESCO world heritage site, has a history of more than 1,300 years and is the most revered site among Tibetan Buddhists.(AFP File Photo )

Damage caused by the fire at Jokhang temple in Lhasa, one of the most holiest and ancient sites in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), could be more widespread than official reports acknowledge, activists said on Monday.

Fire broke out at the temple on Saturday, the second day of the Tibetan New Year, also known as Losar.

Chinese media on Sunday said the fire at Lhasa’s Jokhang temple, a site many Tibetans revere as the most sacred, has been put out and areas around it have been opened after a temporary closure.

“A fire broke out at Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, on Saturday. The incident took place at around 6 pm local time and the blaze has been put out. The authorities said there are no casualties and the cause of the fire remains unclear,” China’s broadcaster China Central Television said in a brief report.

The statement comes amid concerns that the 1,300-year old temple, a UNESCO world heritage site that houses cultural treasures sacred to Tibetans, was badly damaged in a fire that engulfed large parts of it.

“There are fears that the damage may be more widespread than the authorities acknowledge,” the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said in a statement.

“The fire apparently began in a building near the Jokhang, with some sources saying this was the Meru Nyingpa monastery in the alley ways of the Barkhor, and then spread. One source in touch with an eyewitness said that several buildings nearby had been burnt to the ground, although that could not be confirmed,” the ICT statement said.

“The Chinese authorities took several hours to confirm the fire at the Jokhang, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and immediately downplayed it, stating that it was under control and that there had been no casualties,” ICT’s Kate Saunders said.

The ICT said reports and communications about the fire were being blocked and social media posts deleted, consistent with the oppressive political climate in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, where thousands of pilgrims have gathered for Tibetan New Year.

“In apparent attempts to give the impression that the situation is normal, despite worldwide distress and concern at the news, the Chinese state media posted today posted a cheery image of TAR (Communist Party of China) Party Secretary Wu Yingjie at the square in front of the temple engaging in ‘cordial exchanges with all ethnic groups’ following the partial re-opening of the temple on Sunday (February 18). The main shrine remains closed,” Saunders said.

Prominent Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser told AFP she was “very worried” about the state of the monastery.

First Published: Feb 19, 2018 09:40 IST