Thursday, September 07, 2006

Plight of Tibetans Overlooked

As reported on the eve of HHDL's arrival in Vancouver by the Georgia Straight (Canada); 7 September 2006

By Charlie Smith

Some hope that a visit from the Dalia Lama, Tibet's spiritual and political leader, will draw attention to China's actions.

The Dalai Lama's visit encourages positive change, but politics is not on the agenda.

The Dalai Lama's three-day visit to Vancouver starting on Friday (September 8) is generating a lot of attention for its spiritual aspects. However, there hasn't been much in the local media about the plight of the Tibetan people, who look upon the Dalai Lama as their spiritual and political leader.

Tenzin Lhalungpa, president of the Vancouver chapter of the Canada Tibet Committee, told the Georgia Straight that he believes the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, which is organizing the visit, is trying to keep the Dalai Lama's visit "as nonpolitical as possible".

The Dalai Lama will host a series of dialogues in Vancouver on such topics as cultivating happiness and compassion, educating the heart, and bringing about social change.

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"In their zeal not to give offence to anybody, they're going to end up giving offence to his prime constituency: the Tibetans and the Tibet-support groups," Lhalungpa predicted.

The Dalai Lama's visit comes at a time when China appears to be launching another crackdown on Tibetans living in the area it calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

On August 14, the London-based Times newspaper reported that the Tibetan Autonomous Region's new top official, Zhang Qingli, had told senior party members that he was in "a fight to the death" against the Dalai Lama.

Ethnic Tibetan civil servants have been prohibited from attending religious ceremonies, the paper reported.

Zhang is also reportedly a close ally of Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was Communist party chief in the Tibetan Autonomous Region between 1988 and 1992. Less than two months after Hu arrived in the capital of Lhasa in 1989, martial law was declared.

In 2002, the U.K.-based Free Tibet Committee issued a report on Hu's role in Tibet, noting that all foreign visitors were given two days to leave following the imposition of martial law.

Tibetans were required to carry residence permits at all times. Those without permits were expelled.

According to Lhalungpa, China is trying to convert Tibet into "another Chinese province" by flooding it with newcomers.

"The Canadians have a major role that they're playing here because [Montreal-based] Bombardier helped build that train that can bring more and more immigrants into Tibet," Lhalungpa said. "It's not just the activists in exile who are saying this. Even the Tibetans look upon this train with a lot of worry and a great deal of concern because they know what it's going to lead to."

In its 2005 annual report, Amnesty International stated that freedom of religion, expression, and association "continued to be severely restricted" and "arbitrary arrests and unfair trials continued" in Tibet through the previous year.

"Over 100 Tibetan prisoners of conscience, mainly Buddhist monks and nuns, remained in prison," the Amnesty International report said.

"Contacts between the Chinese authorities and representatives of the Tibetan government in exile continued, with some signs that progress was being made. However, this failed to result in any significant policy changes leading to improved protection for the basic human rights of Tibetans."

Tsering Lama's grandparents were exiled from Tibet in the 1920s. Her parents came to Canada with her when she was 10 years old. Lama told the Straight that the Tibetans have no other tools except their patience to deal with the situation.

She also claimed there are three "Ts" that can't be discussed in China: Taiwan, Tiananmen, and Tibet.