Feb 17, 2018

An ancient Buddhist temple in Lhasa, Tibet, caught fire over the weekend, but Chinese state media said arson was not to blame and that its relics are unharmed.

On Saturday, February 17, videos began circulating on social media which appeared to show the Jokhang Temple, a Unesco world heritage site, engulfed in flames. Locals said the fire coming from the seventh century structure could be seen throughout the holy Tibetan capital. After several hours of silence, the government news agency Xinhua reported that the fire was “soon put out,” but censorship of images of the blaze have led scholars to fear that the government is covering up serious damage to the revered site. “People are hugely concerned, rightly or wrongly, that the damage might be much more severe than the media is letting on,” Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert based in London, told the Guardian. Neither the main structure nor 6,510 of the site’s registered relics were damaged by the fire, which broke out in a ventilation chamber, according to the Xinhua report. The Jokhang temple was the site of a protest witnessed by foreign journalists in 2008—one of the last times any outside media was allowed into Tibet.