Reports: China easing bans on Tibetans displaying Dalai Lama images; UPDATED

[June 29 Update: An update from the BBC today tells us "China denies lifting ban on Dalai Lama worship."]

News is emerging that China, just three months after the swearing in of new president Xi Jinping, is in the initial stages in Tibet of tentatively loosening longstanding bans on Tibetans displaying and venerating images of HH the Dalai Lama.

Citing British rights group Free Tibet, Reuters reports that the 1996 ban has been lifted at one of Tibet’s largest monasteries, Ganden, located in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa. At the same time, Bloomberg says that Radio Free Asia has broadcast that such restrictions on display of the Dalai Lama’s image are being eased throughout the eastern provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai.

According to the Bloomberg piece, Radio Free Asia also quotes a Qinghai resident that officials there are no longer under standing orders to denounce the Dalai Lama. Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University, underlined the importance of this step:

“Denigrating the Dalai Lama, insulting him, attacking him, basing policy on accusations against him, that’s a national-level propaganda theme,” he said. “So reversing that is much more significant than the question of photographs.”

An official spokesman from Tibet’s government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, was far more cautious when speaking to Bloomberg. He said that much deeper policy changes would be needed to ease the severity of China’s religious repression within Tibet, which has provoked 120 self-immolation protests by Tibetan monastics and laypeople there since February 2009.

Update: The New York Times, drawing from Asian-language media, expands on the reporting above, discussing China’s apparent experiment to “separate the Dalai Lama’s religious and political roles”  in Tibet.