Chinese authorities in the Tibetan capital Lhasa have closed the Jokhang temple, a major pilgrimage site, for three days following a fire that broke out in the temple compound at the weekend.
The move raised fears among Tibetans that the Feb. 17 fire may have caused damage not yet revealed to the public, Tibetan sources said.
On Feb. 18, the fourth day of the Tibetan New Year, the Jokhang was open to the public and was crowded with devotees, a source in Lhasa told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
But yellow draperies had been newly hung behind the temple’s central image, the famous Jowo statue of the Buddha brought to Tibet in the seventh century by the Chinese bride of the Tibetan emperor Songtsen Gampo, RFA’s source said.
“Also, no one was allowed to go up to the second floor of the temple,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The temple’s management committee then issued a public notice stating that while the Jokhang would remain open that day, it would close the next, and the notice was later reissued saying that the temple would remain closed through Feb. 22, the source said.
Officials, media silent
Chinese authorities in Tibet have meanwhile moved quickly to shut down news and images of the blaze circulating online, warning that anyone caught spreading news of the fire would be jailed, sources told RFA.
Chinese media, too, have remained silent on the fire, sources say.
Official silence on the blaze may result from fear of unrest in Tibetan areas beyond the capital, Robbie Barnett, a London-based expert on contemporary Tibet, told RFA in an email.
“But this explanation would only make sense if there has indeed been a major problem, which could indicate that there has been serious damage that is being hidden.”
The government may also be severely embarrassed that a major fire was able to break out in the Jokhang, a site with UNESCO World Heritage status, Barnett said.
Reported by Lhuboom for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.