Normally, when there are conflicting versions about something as dramatic as a series of protests or self-immolations, foreign correspondents travel to the place in question and try to figure out what really happened.
In the case of ethnic Tibetans in China's Sichuan Province, however, that has been a difficult task.
Because police checkpoints in the region are turning outside media away (sometimes after detaining them, as happened to me in Sichuan during November), it's so far not been possible to pin down the facts on the ground.
For example, when writing yesterday on reports that surfaced over the weekend about three more Tibetans reportedly lighting themselves on fire, I was left to quote an advocacy group, Radio Free Asia and then give the Chinese government's line on unrest in the region. If confirmed, the three would make it 19 self-immolations in less than a year. (UPDATE: Chinese officials, quoted in state-run media, have denied those reports. The rights group Free Tibet stands by its information -- my story is here.)
When I got to the office this morning, I saw that China Daily, a government-run newspaper, had a story on the subject of ethnic Tibetans and Sichuan. Its reporter seemed to have no trouble at all gaining access to the areas in question. The piece looked at two incidents in which Tibetans were shot by police on Jan. 23 and 24.
I thought I might pass along a few different perspectives:
I. China Daily: Riots linked to organized crime and subversion
"The police station in Seda county was attacked on Jan 24, one day after the violence broke out in Luhuo.
About 200 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, started to gather at Jinma Square in Seda town around 2 pm, according to Palden, the county director.
Around 2:40 pm, he said, they began to attack a police box near the square using Tibetan knives, rocks and flaming gas bottles. Gunshots were heard.
One participant died, and another was injured when the police fought back, Palden said. The riot lasted about 20 minutes before the mob was dispersed. Thirteen people were arrested.
The riot frightened people. Yeshe Lhamo, 28, a nun at the local Buddhism academy, said she didn't feel comfortable going into the county seat until several days had passed. 'People are scared, and the atmosphere in the temples is tense,' she said. 'Violence is against monastic order. No one wants to see such things happen.'
Palden, who is 48 and ethnic Tibetan, has been the county director in Seda for four years. 'Some people involved in the violence are not locals,' he said. 'They traveled all the way from Tibet autonomous region and Qinghai province, so it is obvious that the riot was planned. It's also the reason why the violence in Luhuo and Seda was only one day apart.'"
II. Two images from Free Tibet, a Tibetan advocacy group, reportedly from the same town and incident.
III. An e-mailed statement from the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China
"The Chinese authorities have set up a massive security cordon in an attempt to prevent journalists from entering Tibetan areas in Western Sichuan Province where major unrest – including killings and self-immolations – has been reported.
The FCCC considers this a clear violation of China’s regulations governing foreign reporters, which allow them to travel freely and to interview anyone prepared to be interviewed.
Correspondents attempting to travel to the region in question have faced major obstacles, including detention by the police and roadblocks at which they have been stopped and turned back by officials who have then forcibly escorted them back to Chengdu. 'Bad roads' and 'weather' are being used as excuses for denying correspondents entry to the area.
One team reported that their car was suspiciously rammed by another vehicle. Reporters have been followed, questioned for hours, asked to write confessions and had their material confiscated.
Journalists are merely trying to do their job and independently confirm the truth of reports from the area. We call on the Chinese government to recognize our purely professional motivation and to abide by its own regulations that allow us to enter the areas in question."