ExplorersWeb 2008 Year in Review Special:
Everest, Tibet and China.
Influence of politics was so massive on mountaineering this year we had to lift Everest out of the regular Year in Review. Yet the events were so remarkable they should not fall into oblivion. Here thus an ExWeb 2008 YIR second edition, with focus Everest, Tibet and China. Regural WIR will resume next Sunday.
In order to get the Olympic Games, China had promised to fullfill certain conditions: one was unrestricted access for media. Reporters would be allowed to travel freely and interview whom they wished and without state regulated interpreters.
As for climbing, rumors that Mt. Everest would be closed during the Olympic torch were consistently denounced by CMA & CTMA. “China will not limit the number of expeditions in 2008,” Chinese officials said as late as September 4, 2007.
“They [China] have once again assured us that there will be no limitations on Everest, only stricter criteria to fulfill,” confirmed a CTMA spokesman in Nepal on October 3, 2007. “Also, they have once again assured us that there will be no restriction to climbing during the summit push of the Olympic flame,” Tshering said.
On March 7, 2008, a soft loan was issued by China to Nepal of $120 million. Three days later, a remarkable chain of events unfolded, here in chronological order:
Each year on the so called Tibetan Uprising Day (March 10), Tibetans walk to commemorate the 1959 Tibetan national uprising against China. Also this year, monks from various monasteries began to peacefully march in Lhasa on that date. That same day, in spite of expeditions complying with Chinese rules of early applications and political screenings; an official notice was sent out to climbers stating that Everest north side would be closed until May 10.
The Lhasa march was seconded in other parts of the world – such as in Nepal, by Tibetan refugees protesting outside the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu. This year, Chinese embassy officials were allowed to direct Nepalese soldiers handling the Tibetan demonstrators and to spit on an American who took photos.
Rumor was that China attempted to convince Nepalese authorities to close also the south side of Everest until May 10. Nepal said it had denied the request.
March 11, Chinese officials told AFP that the ban on Everest North side climbing was a “misunderstanding.” Meanwhile, expedition leaders reported they were threatened with lifetime climbing bans if they gave out reports.
ExWeb received requests to remove from its website the official CTMA note and right after it was published; the week-in-review (illustrated by the notice) vanished mysteriously from ExWeb’s publisher.
Simultaneously in Lhasa, the Ganden monastery was surrounded by armed paramilitary police. Layers of soldiers and up to 2000 police were stationed around the Sera and Drepung monasteries. Monks were trapped with dwindling food supplies.
March 12 and 13
In spite of denials made only two days earlier; on March 12, Nepalese Tourism Minister Prithvi Subba Gurung announced that also the south side of Everest would be closed for climbing during the torch relay.
Gurung said the move had been taken in response to a request from China, “this is to prevent some people who could infiltrate and cause trouble during the time when they take the torch to the top.”
The next day, on March 13, a media blackout was imposed on Lhasa. No pictures came out from the Tibetan capital, and no foreign journalists were allowed. Reporters trying to phone monasteries received replies such as, “the monks are all in their rooms.”
Tibetan and foreign demonstrators in India, resisting arrest by sitting or laying down, were hauled away into police buses.
About 80 dead, four monks torching themselves, a monastery badly damaged, and Chinese buildings set ablaze were reported from Lhasa on March 14. “There could be several hundred tanks and they were shooting into the crowds,” a private witness told RFA’s Tibetan service.
An ExplorersWeb correspondent and local tourists in Lhasa reported a war-zone with tanks/armoured vehicles driving around in the streets, shops on fire, total curfew, and far worse violence than news reports were stating.
Sunday, March 16, China blamed Dalai Lama and Tibetans for the Lhasa killings and declared a “People’s War” on protesters inside and outside of Tibet, including the Dalai Lama. A live video showed scores of Chinese police searching door to door in Lhasa.
Journalists were banned from the city; and according to an US TV report – in spite of accredited journalist’s reports always being screened by Chinese officials – foreign media such as CNN in mainland China was forbidden to even mention Tibet.
In the following week, Chinese army mobilized in western China. Journalists were banned, Tibetans were jailed and international internet was infiltrated by Chinese cadres.
The last foreign journalist was forced out of Lhasa; and foreign press was prevented from traveling in certain mainland China areas. Any mention of Tibet was suspiciously missing from Google News China, while Yahoo China pasted a “most wanted” poster of Tibetans across its homepage.
A unique online war broke out outside of the censored country. Youtube videos, blog postings and commentaries claimed to have been mady by ‘western’ posters were frequently busted for being made by Chinese sources.
FBI investigated attacks on Save Darfur domains; US State Department reported that such attacks by Chinese authorities had been ongoing for years. An increasing amount of MountEverest.net’s stories were re-tagged and stopped showing up in internet searches.
ExWeb specials: focus Chinese leadership
In the following days, thousands of paramilitary police and troops blanketed a huge swath of western China. Witnesses reported long convoys heading for Lhasa, with markings and registration plates of vehicles removed. Cho Oyu and Shisha Pangma were closed. No permits, except for Dhaulagiri & Ama Dablam, were issued.
Chinese denials of Tibetan deaths were increasingly disproved by pictures arriving with tourists. Former President of Czech Republic Vaclav Havel said that the attempt to seal off Tibet from the rest of the world was a most dangerous situation and that the “harmony” trumpeted by China is known as “the peace of the graveyard.”
An increasing number heads of states decided to meet with the Dalai Lama whom the by Hu Jintao’s appointed Chief of Tibet Zhang Qingli called “a wolf wrapped in a rabbit, a monster with a human face and animal’s heart.” Qingli further declared “a fierce blood- and-fire battle with the Dali clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy.”
ExplorersWeb kicked off an investigative series about China’s and Tibet’s current leadership.
OTC: “the Olympics should not be politicized”
The International Olympic Committee parroted China’s slogan that the Olympics should not be politicized. Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom organization, published excerpts from a 26-page IOC memo on the Olympic torch relay marked “confidential.” The memo showed that IOC worked closely with the Chinese in regards to “what to tell the press.”
The governor of Tibet told reporters in Beijing that anyone attempting to disrupt the torch’s journey on his watch “would be dealt with severely.”
In statements to media, some Olympic athletes said their only goal was to win a gold medal; while a few made statements for human rights.
Early April, pre-elections in Nepal
In an April 10 Nepal elections special, ExWeb ran an investigative story about a tiny party (3%) that joined the Nepal’s government not by election but by force, and with a leader who recently had been on Interpol’s most wanted list; the Maoists.
ExWeb had covered the rebels for years. After breaking people’s legs, burying some alive, killing others in front of their family or forcing family members to hurt each other while the entire village watched, the big question was: what connections with China did Maoist leader Prachanda have, and how big was his power?
ExWeb found that in spite of UN and promises made, Prachanda still had an army; and according to Red Star (the Maoist own website) Prachanda was member of RIM in Chicago founded by infamous Robert Avakian with members such as the “Shining Path” of Peru and the self-proclaimed objective of “world wide revolution by force.”
On December 8 in 2007, Prachanda had also met with the chairman of giant SMG (Shanghai Wenching Media Group), whose representatives had traveled to meet with the tiny Maoist party in the jungle of southern Nepal. SMG is part of SMEG – one of the largest media conglomerates in China.
Among the regulations; no anti-China props “that may harm bilateral relationship between Nepal and China,” electronics were to be stored with police in BC until May 10, and news about expeditions were to be screened by the Ministry of Tourism & Civil Aviation before allowed to be sent out.
Meanwhile, an eerie silence blanketed the blacked-out Lhasa. Horror stories trickled out as journalists, western officials and foreign diplomats in Tibet were denied unsupervised access. At the Jokhang temple about 30 terrified young monks unexpectedly surrounded a group of guided journalists and started shouting, “they are tricking you, they are telling lies, don’t believe them.”
A woman reported that Tibetans were arrested and secretly shot outside town.
April 10: Maoists win Nepal election
While at first established parties were reported to take the lead; the Maoists shocked by a landslide victory in Nepal’s elections. International observers, including former US President Jimmy Carter, deemed the Nepal election “free and fair.” Carter also stated that it’s wrong of US to still consider the Maoists terrorists.
The centre for Tibetan refugees in Kathmandu (where some of the Nangpa La victims were housed in 2006) was closed. Prachanda said that he would not allow the Dalai Lama office to reopen and that the Maoists regard Tibet as inseparable part of China.
Climbers told ExWeb that Kathmandu looked like a ghost town on April 10 and seemed not in very a festive mood on the Nepalese New Year a few days later. “This climate of apprehension is due to the pressure put by the Maoists on Nepal’s people,” analyzed one climber – a long time visitor to the country.
“The Maoists threatened to take retaliation against the people in case they lost the elections. Fear spread among the population and thus the Maoist party has obtained a majority of votes in the polls,” reported another.
Shortly after the election, Liaison Officers, selected to search and monitor electronic equipment and enforce the communications ban arrived in Everest south side BC. An army major was put in charge of “security” and snipers were positioned in high camps; ordered to sharp-shoot protesters. Camps were searched, laptops, sat-phones and cameras were confiscated, leaving the climbers with just radios to communicate among themselves – and their conversations were to be eavesdropped.
Following a big meeting between expedition leaders and authorities, climbers reported they had been told: “…we shall not mention the words “Tibet” or “Free Tibet” – we can’t speak about the subject, neither can we say anything which could sound offensive towards China. It is also forbidden to wear T- shirts or to show any symbol referring to China or Tibet while in the area.”
Even trekkers were to be prevented to bring their cameras and phones beyond Gorak Shep. Handwritten notes that friends could post from Namche were to first be read by officials in BC. Maoist checkpoints were reported enroute to BC and some trekkers said they were still forced to pay “revolutionary fees.”
Nepalese effectively prohibited anyone flying towards Everest BC and surrounding mountains. Two climbers who arrived in Manaslu base camp on foot reported, “we didn’t fly because foreigners are not allowed to fly, by a new law of the Nepal aviation authority in relation with the unstable situation in Tibet. Or so we have been told.”
Climbers without borders
ExplorersWeb’s “Climbers Without Borders” hotline allowed climbers, their relatives and friends to report anonymously from the mountain. Pictures arrived of Chinese security guards and plain clothes Chinese police on the Nepal side of Everest and a helicopter carrying Chinese officials inspecting Everest BC.
A banner sealed off the Lhotse wall and a small police post guarded camp 2, with a soldier doing the rounds each day with a sniper rifle. Climbers were forced to pay thousands of dollars to feed the soldiers on the mountain. “It is insane. It is extortion to pay for your own persecutors,” one expedition leader said. Radio restrictions were enforced between BC and high camps. “The Army alleges security reasons we can’t really understand,” commented an Italian mountaineer.
A young, unguided American climber was kicked off Everest after fellow climbers tipped off the police that he had a Tibetan banner in his backpack. A BBC reporter was expelled from BC. The Nepalese authorities imposed a complete communication ban on journalists from the south side base camp and upwards. Climbers were not allowed to hold even informal chats with media; if any mountaineer talked to the BBC, he or she would be expelled.
Early May, Everest had become an army base on both sides as the torch made its way to the summit. Foreign military jets were seen flying over the summit. Checkpoints in the Khumbu searched climbers’ luggage for communications equipment, cameras, and flags. Helicopters were flying between Katmandu and base camp bringing more army troops, supplies and food. “Base camp is becoming an army camp rather than a climbing base,” mountaineers reported.
Protests and attacks
Following a story about suspected mass executions in Lhasa, ExplorersWeb was attacked by batches of vicious spam, threatening emails, faked orders at the HumanEdgeTech online store and messages notifying that all ExWeb’s domains were to be registered in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The French mountaineering organization GHM (original Piolet d’Or) issued a protest, asking international mountaineers, mountaineering authorities, alpine clubs, trade associations and UIAGM to declare themselves officially against the torch event.
UIAA asked CMA to take their flag no higher than base camp on the Tibetan side, so it would face the same restrictions as the climbers on the south side: “The UIAA, which stands for the freedom of access to all mountains, has advised the CMA that it cannot allow its flag to fly over Everest, when the UIAA’s very constituents, the international climbing community, find themselves barred or greatly restricted in their access to the mountain,” stated UIAA’s President Mike Mortimer.
Everest north side Olympic torch ascent
In Beijing, international journalists selected to cover the Olympic torch Everest ascent, were told to go straight to Everest via Lhasa in three days. Altitude sick and left to interview only Chinese-conditioned Tibetans; the correspondents were prevented from reporting on anything other than the flame and were told that no media would be allowed when the torch left BC.
None of the Chinese torch climbers were among the country’s top high altitude mountaineers, and some in the torch team had already been involved in at least one 8000+ summit controversy.
Chinese expedition leader Wang Yongfeng (a representative of the Chinese Mountaineering Association in Beijing) had only 3, 8000+ summits (Everest and Cho Oyu, all with oxygen support). In 2005 he skied one degree to the South Pole and claimed a full trip although he only did one tenth of the required distance.
On May 5, the Chinese stated that 3 climbers had topped out Everest from the north side. Everest south side mountaineers watching the attempt live from the summit of Kalapattar (Nepal) said the team had overcome the Second Step, but then a storm forced them down.
The 2008 “live” coverage turned out “almost live” and summit images only showed clouds, flags and various climbers. In light of the previous controversies, and 4 different videos shot by China on the summit already in 2007, suspicion was raised about the authenticity of the summit climb.
“The moment I saw the torch lit on top of Mount Everest I felt very hurt,” a Tibetan told Reuters and his feelings were shared by many around the world. After the torch ascent, climbing- and comms bans were lifted on Everest south side. Hundreds of mountaineers celebrated summit; only two made gestures for Tibet.
That same month, Inaki Ochoa, one of the few mountaineers who took a clear stand against the Olympic games in Beijing lost his life on Annapurna. A few months later, Pavle Kozjek – the first mountaineer to send pictures from Nangpa La – perished on Trango Tower. Luis Benitez, who blew the whistle on the Cho Oyu shootings, was forced out from Himalaya by his guiding peers.
In August, a notice from Google arrived to ExplorersWeb, headlined “removal from Googles index:”
“While we were indexing your webpages, we detected that some of your pages were using techniques that are outside our quality guidelines […] This appears to be because your site has been modified by a third party […] we have temporarily removed some of your webpages from our search results. Currently pages from mounteverest.net are scheduled to be removed for at least 30 days.”
The 08/08/08 inaguaration of the Olympic games in Beijing were attended by most heads of states and business celebrities such as President Bush and Bill Gates. Putin was there too, mostly busy sending troops to Georgia.
“The impression China must get [with the Olympics] is that it does not matter how much it violates human rights; the international community seems not to care,” stated two independent Canadian investigators following a story about human organ transplant plants in China.
“With neighbouring China and India in their immoral collusion, supported by a pusillanimous Britain and United States, there is little the Tibetans can do officially to represent their interests to the world,” wrote George Patterson, who rode across the Himalayas in the winter of 1949, became involved with the Tibetan resistance and helped Dalai Lama to escape.
“Appalling sort of abdication of moral responsibility,” wrote one journalist about Everest and Nangpa La following the 2008 season.
One battle doesn’t win a war
China won. Or did they.
ExWeb cleaned up the code sneaked onto its server and MountEverest.net was back on Google within a week. New climbers began speaking up for Tibet. Two managed to sneak up a pro-Tibet t-shirt to the top of Everest, many more demonstrated around the world and new lines were forged for human rights.
While winning a short-term victory; the Beijing Olympic Games did not turn out the way the Chinese dictators had envisioned them. In spite of all their broken promises of free speech; the world managed to get a look at China’s true face.
Before the games, few people knew that China is not a free country; that only 5% of its population are members in the communist party and that 95% of the Chinese population has no influence on the political process at all.
Before the games, few knew that Xinhua is nothing but a PR agency for the government of China. That “the Great Firewall of China” is the name of China’s network of firewalls and proxy servers at the Internet gateways aimed to keep the Chinese people in the dark.
The Olympic flame put in spotlight the farms where innocent people are held alive to become organ donors to foreign recipients; and the giant slave force serving the rich. Before the games, few knew that the Chinese people yearn for democracy, science, human rights, freedom, reason, and equality.
Before the games, there was much talk about wonder economy, booming Tibet, and Chinese billionaires. After the games, people have learned that in spite of huge foreign investments; the Chinese financial success has not been striking compared to other countries in Asia. The difference between rich and poor in China has increased and half the population is living on less than $2/day – the situation is even worse in rural areas and occupied Tibet. The Olympic torch also highlighted the dangerous liasions foreign companies have made in this unpredictable climate.
Two months from now, on March 10, 2009, the walk will commence again. This year, it will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1959 uprising. Perhaps the global financial crisis will turn out Tibet’s biggest chance.
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Filed under: Climbers, Expedition, Himalayas, Week-In-Review Tagged: | Ama Dablam, Broad Peak, China, Climbers, Dhaulagiri, Everest BC, Himalayas, HiMountain, Ice Warriors, Inaki Ochoa, Karakoram, Lhasa, monks, Nanga Parbat, Nepal, Olympic Games, Olympic promises, Pakistan, Piotr Morawski, protests, Shisha Pangma, Simone Moro, Tibet, Travel, Week-In-Review