Wednesday, 23 April 2008
Thomas Mann opened the meeting and introduced Kate Saunders, Communications Director of the International Campaign for Tibet. Ms Saunders spoke of the recent events, and said that there was a new awareness and a new image of Tibet. There had recently been an orderly march in Lhassa demanding the release of imprisoned monks, but the march was stopped, and 50 people detained. Many people sat down in protest. The police and paramilitary were restrained at first, but there were some scuffles. A Tibetan flag was unfurled in the Barkhor area, but the person who did this was dragged away.
There had been protests before in 1988, but this time things have moved very quickly and the scale is bigger than anyone imagined. Other protests have called for freedom of Tibet and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. People communicate with cell phones and can express their feelings that way, but the Chinese authorities have realised this and now confiscate cell phones. Because of the monks’ protests, there is now compulsory “Patriotic Education” instruction in monasteries.
ICT had monitored 97 non-violent protests (and a single one where violence occurred). A group of nomads rode into a town on horses, unarmed (normally they would be, but they were making a point), tore down a Communist Party flag and raised a Tibetan flag. Monks in the Jokhang temple gave a virtual Press conference and spoke of their wish for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. One monk spoke of the fact that religious repression prevented him from continuing on his path of Dharma. They are distressed by allegations that they have arms hidden in the temple.
Richard Gere recently referred to the Tibetan protests, and aid that “speaking truth – the right speech” is a precept of Tibetan Buddhism, and recent events show the emptiness of the “harmonious society” claimed by China.
No one questions the authority of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, indeed it has been strengthened by recent events. People have risked their lives to show their loyalty. The Chinese President Hu Jintao has a great deal of responsibility for the complete breakdown of China’s policy in Tibet, he set out many policies that led to unrest. What has happened recently is the consequence of 50 years of Chinese misrule. There has been a failure to understand the deep-seated sense of loss of the Tibetan people; they lose their language, their livelihoods, and become increasingly marginalized with the Chinese influx (for the second time).
They are forced to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama, causing great stress. This has been happening for a long time but is a hundred times worse now. Work teams move into monasteries, demolish holy shrines and burn images of the Dalai Lama. The military crackdown is very intensive, but those who protest have genuine reasons to do so.
The Beijing-Lhassa train now transports hundreds of prisoners to Sechuan and GangTsu; many monks are badly beaten. This is all very chilling for older Tibetans in Lhassa – they remember the 1950s when prisoners went west and never came back.
There have been 4000 detentions admitted by the Chinese authorities, but people are still disappearing every day. An atmosphere of fear and terror reigns; people wait for a knock on the door.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been made into a scapegoat and is accused of mastering the protests.
Europe has a big role to play, and the EU should use its diplomatic influence and continue to fully support Tibet. It is now high time for China to speak to His Holiness’ representatives. Tibet is at a turning point and EU support never mattered more.
Thomas Mann thanked Ms Saunders for her talk and referred to the numerous Resolutions on Tibet passed by the European Parliament. He also mentioned the black armbands that could be worn by the Olympic sportsmen and women, giving a clear sign, without provocation.
Gabriela informed the meeting that Mr. Jarzembowski is going to China, and that it would be useful for him to take names of some of the monks that have been detained so that he could ask the authorities for news of them. Ms Saunders promised to pass on this information.
In answer to a question about the Panchen Lama, Ms Saunders said that at one time there was a lot of news about the “Chinese” Panchen Lama, it seemed that he had a high profile, but of late there has been no news of him. Another question concerned legal assistance to the detained and imprisoned, would be it possible to help, to offer this assistance, maybe as Observers?
Ms Saunders replied that 18 courageous Chinese lawyers had offered to give legal assistance to detained people, but after harassment from the Chinese authorities they pulled out. It was nevertheless an excellent idea to offer this assistance, especially for Tibetans who have been detained in vast numbers, many tortured. Some were released but others face charges. Such an offer of assistance would give extra visibility to the issue.
Upon being asked what was happening in their own states, a number of members told of considerable media interest, demonstrations, and pressure on governments to give support to the Tibetan cause and for the Chinese authorities to meet with His Holiness’ representatives. Many governments will not be represented at the Opening Ceremony.