Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Paramilitary in the monastery
Paramilitary police clean their weapons in a monastery courtyard in Lithang, Karze Prefecture. They are positioned such that any pilgrims making the circuit to spin prayer wheels will need to pass them and feel intimidated.
Photo: Wen-Yan King

n important meeting is to be held next week which may determine the fate of a nation, one that forms an essential pattern in the fabric of the civilised world. Tibetans from around the world will meet in Dharamsala, India, responding to the call of their spiritual leader to determine the future course of their long struggle, and the prospect of their survival as a people.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama asked for this assembly before his diplomatic delegation travelled to China on their latest fruitless quest for understanding, and as his own faith in his lifetime efforts on behalf of his people was dwindling.

This is an opportunity that cannot be wasted, while we still have the Dalai Lama with us. He wants to hear all the criticisms of his long-held Middle Way Approach with the Chinese communists, and to have a full discussion of the alternatives. And why not? Since every proposal of limited autonomy in specific fields (as outlined in China's own constitution as the right of "nationalities") is rejected by the CCP as merely "independence in disguise," why not call their bluff and change the aspiration to what they will label it in any case?

He has become disheartened with his own efforts to find middle ground, put forth with integrity over the span of nearly his entire life. Try to imagine what that must feel like -- spending close to 60 years trying to work with them after they overrun your country, believing you can find some grain of compassion and realism in their leaders. Never getting a single thing in return, but still keeping faith in their humanity. And finally realising they were lying to you the entire time.

But his despair isn't for himself, but for his people.
"Tibetans are being handed down a death sentence. This ancient nation, with an ancient cultural heritage is dying," he told a group of reporters.
The Tibetans in exile are impatient after so many years with no perceivable result. Those inside Tibet are absolutely fed up, as we saw clearly in the sustained protests over months this year. Buddhism teaches compassion and kindness, but not necessarily if it means rolling over and dying without a struggle. Life and freedom also have a place in Buddhism.

Three young monks in Markham County, Chamdo Prefecture (T-"A"-R) were arrested over a power station blast in September.
On Oct. 24, police found Tenzin Rinchen, shot him in the leg, and arrested him, Tibetan sources said. Ngawang Tenzin and Tenzin Norbu "were detained yesterday, Oct. 30," one source said. "They were arrested yesterday night and taken away."
Local sources told RFA of a huge military presence in the county. Ngawang Tenzin's father was also arrested, as family members of the accused often are. Tenzin Norbu's elder brother was taken while ploughing his field, but he refused to talk. He was released on October 27, unable to move his hands or feet.

Political cleansing has begun in Lhasa districts, with the removal of any local government employees known to have relatives who are current or former political prisoners, or who have fled abroad. An ultimatum had earlier been released, warning that any Tibetans having children studying in India would suffer similar consequences, such as loss of jobs and pensions. Three monks in Barkham County, Ngaba Prefecture were so badly mistreated that all sustained serious kidney damage from beatings with iron bars. A Drepung monk held in detention near Lhasa was so viciously beaten by guards that he vomited blood.

On October 18 an intermediate school student in Chentsa district committed suicide by jumping from the school's roof. Lhundrup, 17, had participated in the taking down and burning of the Chinese flag from the school in March, and replacing it with a Tibetan one. He was described as one of the best students in his class, and had left a note to his parents, teachers and fellow students. Lhundrup made clear that he had not done it for personal reasons, but
...as a proof for the world community that Tibetans are deprived of Freedom and Basic Human Rights and he hoped that Tibetans would fight consistently for the freedom of the Tibetans and further added that the teachers and school mates should work hard for the preservation of our native Language i.e. Tibetan.
Fourteen Tibetans were sentenced at the end of October to various prison terms (up to 15 years) for participating in protests or composing freedom leaflets. Those convicted were denied access to family and legal counsel. Five people in Kardze have been given sentences up to 10 years for such things as raising the Tibetan flag or distributing leaflets. One of the five, Ngoega, 53, responded to the verdict by saying:
"We did not commit any crimes of destroying or burning public properties rather we were involved only in distributing pamphlets on Tibetan cause. For that act I suffered torture, inhuman and degrading treatment at the hands of security personnel that I regain my body sensation only days after my [transfer] to the prison."
More long prison sentences are detailed here.

Jigme speaks
Jigme made his video testament in August. He was arrested last week.
The Labrang monk who fearlessly recorded a video giving the details of his own arbitrary arrest and torture in detention (discussed here with links to the videos and Woeser's English translation) has been arrested after returning to the monastery.

Jigme offered the only extended personal account of Chinese treatment of detainees following the March uprising, and he was arrested on that global day of hope, November 4. More than 70 security forces including the paramilitary PAP were involved in the operation.
Police vehicles, their sirens wailing, drew up outside the monastery just after midday. Armed officers poured out and entered Jigme’s cell near the front of the ancient edifice that sprawls up a hillside in Gansu province.
He had been moving between safe houses since the video was made public in August (it was broadcast on VOA's Tibetan service, Kunleng).
Friends told The Times that he decided to return to his monastery after police, who had visited his family, said he would be safe from arrest if he returned to his monastery. With the onset of winter, he decided to believe the authorities.
Lesson number one: never trust the words of communist Chinese authorities. TCHRD confirms the arrest from its own sources.

An Australian parliamentary delegation recently visited Tibet, and even the pro-Beijing MP who led the group told his Chinese counterparts that reconciliation must take place between the authorities and the Dalai Lama. Chinese officials naturally told him there was nothing to reconcile, since the Tibetans "enjoy full rights" to "manage their own affairs." Luckily, there were two intrepid Aussie journalists who tagged along to report on the huge Chinese military presence in Lhasa.
Military personnel with machineguns are conducting routine patrols around Lhasa's historic Barkhor district.

Snipers are also positioned on rooftops and stairwells.

During a four-day visit to the Buddhist kingdom, The Courier-Mail also witnessed monks being bundled into a police van close to Lhasa's historic Jokhang temple.
An official who spoke to reporter Steve Lewis indicated that the increased military presence was due to a heightened indication of "separatist activities." Cameron Stewart, writing for The Australian, describes a grim military operation hidden from the world's eyes. Heavily armed patrols roam the alleyways of the Tibetan quarter through the night, and "glare at me as they pass, angry at the presence of a foreigner."
When the sun rises, the soldiers do not melt away, but are replaced by a new rotation of troops. The military stranglehold on Lhasa by day is maintained with one chilling addition -- snipers are installed on rooftops around the city's most holy site, the Jokhang Temple, ready to train their guns on the hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims praying in Barkhor Square below.
Cameron writes that the troops' heavy presence betrays Chinese officials' unspoken fear -- that they are losing the Tibetans' hearts and minds rather than winning them over. As for their spoken views, well... koo-koo...
"The image of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan people's minds has already gone away," says Bai Ma.
When Cameron can turn away from Bai Ma (vice-governor of the T-"A"-R) and see the throngs of Tibetans waiting to pay homage at the Potala or perform their religious devotions at the Jokhang, Bai Ma comes off something like Saddam's old Information Minister denying the existence of tanks rumbling along behind him.

Soldiers in the Barkhor
Armed Chinese soldiers patrol the Barkhor area next to the sacred Jokhang Temple.
Photo: Steve Lewis and Cameron Stewart
The reporters were not permitted to speak with senior Buddhist figures, or with anyone who strayed from the party line. They asked to visit Drapchi prison -- which was way out of bounds. So they slipped away from their hotel at night, to find regular Tibetans to talk to. It was still difficult to find people who were not fearful of surveillance.
"Detectives, they listen to what you say ... sometimes (Barkhor) square is full of detectives listening in."

He says Tibetans "feel very bad" about the situation but are powerless to stop it. Another monk claimed that the Chinese had installed listening devices in the main tourist sites where Westerners might interact with Tibetans, and said no one felt safe talking to foreigners about the political situation in Tibet.
On November 3 they witnessed monks being loaded into a police van and taken away, but could not get any explanation for it. Officials told them there was nothing to the reports that Tibetans are forced into "patriotism education" sessions at which they are required to denounce the Dalai Lama. Since this is already so well-documented, the denials don't amount to much. Then there was this:
"After our re-education program most of them will regret what they have done," Tonga [deputy secretary-general of the Tibet People's Congress] says. When pressed further on what this means he adds: "A relevant government official briefed them on what was right and what was wrong."
Nice, eh? They get "briefed" until they "regret what they've done" (i.e. any manifestation of having a national identity - shouting slogans, printing pamphlets, etc.). I wonder if these "briefing" sessions can be done without leaving a scar.

Cameron was struck by the high degree of hostility these officials hold toward the Dalai Lama and Tibetan institutions in exile. When he gently suggests to one official that perhaps a degree of autonomy might ease the tensions, it's off-handedly dismissed with, "Tibet will not be reduced to a backwater society which features theocratic rule." I guess Chinese officials don't get lessons in the rules of logic. No straw-man is too big for these guys to construct.

You can listen to Cameron Stewart talking about his experiences with an accompanying slide-show here, and a gallery of their photographs is here.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture heard testimony late last week from a former Tibetan political prisoner about the inhuman treatment and severe torture dealt out to her by Chinese authorities. Phuntsog Nyidron Sanaschiga (one of the famous Drapchi 14 "Singing Nuns") spent 15 years behind bars for expressing herself (she was released two years early). Also present was Takna Jigme Sangpo, who has previously given testimony of his 37 years in a Chinese prison. Phuntsog Nyidron was 19 when she was arrested in 1989 for celebrating His Holiness receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
"Following my arrest I was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment denied of legal representations. In 1993, along with 13 other political prisoners (all nuns) we secretly recorded songs in the prison that were in praise of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and about the dire situation of the political prisoners. When the Chinese authorities discovered our recordings, my sentence was extended by eight years, making my total sentence 17 years. Through these songs, we also wanted to communicate to our families that our spirits had not been broken,” she told the UN Committee Against Torture.
Among other illegal and immoral mistreatments described in her testimony, was the evidence of prison authorities withholding adequate medical treatments which sometimes resulted in death. Medical care is routinely denied political prisoners.
Phuntsog Nyidron
Phuntsog Nyidron testifies to the UN Committee Against Torture, November 6, 2008.
Photo: Tibet Bureau, Geneva
"Whilst in prison, we underwent unimaginable torture. It was routine for the prisoners to be beaten with iron bars and tortured with electric-cattle prods. Sometimes we were beaten unconscious then woken up water-splashes to be tortured. During my initial months of detention, prison guards had my finger nails poked with the needle of the shoe-sewing machine. Five nuns died from beatings and torture following a May 1998 prison protest at Drapchi Prison, there is no official explanation on how our colleagues died," she said.
Criminal prisoners are treated better than political prisoners, who are permitted much less family contact and don't get the same opportunities for vocational training, she said.
"I must say that when a State targets a woman through violence it should be recognized as a criminal act. I say this because our experience was that with impunity, security agents and police officials beat us like punching bags, tortured the naked bodies of Buddhist nuns with electric cattle-prods and killed our colleagues through such inhuman methods. In some cases, even trained dogs were set free to attack our naked bodies! There have been cases where Tibetan women including nun have been "raped" by an electric-cattle prod!

"I conclude by urging you not to forget the very many Tibetans who have been imprisoned this year, solely for voicing their strong desire to preserve their religious, national and cultural identity and for their belief in the non-violent freedom struggle of Tibet," she added.
Chinese lawyers, academics and activists also made a submission to the Committee, under the umbrella coalition Chinese Human Rights Defenders. Twenty years after China ratified the "Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment" in 1988, "all are routinely practiced by government personnel," said the submission. The document contradicts China's own report to the UN committee, which blames "occasional cases" on the ever-present "bad apples" -- who are evidently very prolific in dishing out beatings, forced labour, forced abortions and arbitrary psychiatric detentions.

Yesterday, China simply refused to answer any detailed questions on these issues from the committee. Claiming "zero tolerance" for these standard practices of Chinese officialdom, China's UN ambassador Li Baodong rejected the committee's requests for detailed information. The Chinese side offered an answer to only a single issue, namely the fate of the Panchen Lama (who, together with his family, were "disappeared" by the state in 1995). An official of China's "Ethnic Affairs Commission" declared that "they are leading a normal life and they don't want to be disturbed." Which is precisely what they've been saying for 13 years already. Gendun Choekyi Nyima is now 19 years old, whereabouts and well-being unknown.

Committee members criticized the Chinese secrecy, with one member "perplexed" by the response, which amounted to highlighting the relevant laws instead of offering the actual information the committee expected to receive.

The Tibetan diplomats who visited the colonial power for talks at the beginning of this month are holding back any comment on the results until the critical Tibetan meeting convenes next week in Dharamsala. The Tibetan side had presented a detailed memorandum on the types of autonomy their people are looking for, as was requested by the Chinese side. I don't know why they'd even bother requesting such a thing when, true to form, they simply rejected it outright anyway. Don't expect any diplomatic niceties from the ideologues at the United Front Work Department, which is in charge of the "dialogue." A senior Party official in the UFWD declared that China has no interest in any sort of autonomy for Tibet.
"We merely talked about how the Dalai Lama should completely give up his splittist opinions and actions and strive for the understanding of the central authorities and all Chinese people so as to solve the issue concerning his own prospects," he said.

"If he really were to gain power one day, he would without compunction or sympathy carry out ethnic discrimination, apartheid and ethnic cleansing."
And there it is. The Tibetans can give concession after concession, the Chinese aren't interested in moving a single millimetre. The whole exercise has been a decades-long stalling tactic, waiting for His Holiness to die and expecting their problems to be solved. How many times must he repeat that if autonomy is achieved, he would gladly return with no powers whatsoever, to finish his days in meditation? How many times must he repeat that the issue is the Tibetan people and their fate, not his?

And how many times will these boneheaded communists premise every response with the exact opposite of the Tibetan position? They'll refer only to His Holiness' "own prospects," nothing further. Laughably trying to convince others that he wants to "gain power" in order to revert Tibet to a feudal system (which is but a fevered fantasy of their own minds). And most despicably, to accuse him of wanting ethnic cleansing and apartheid! Apartheid is practically what the Tibetans are living under right now.

The charade is over. The Chinese government has no tolerance for Tibetan aspirations, no empathy for the absolute misrule they've forced Tibetans to live under, no intention of reaching any sort of mutual agreement, and no plan to lighten the heavy duty repression weighing upon them. The Middle Way Approach of His Holiness was premised on the idea that Chinese leaders could be persuaded to have compassion and see reality. They've made it clear that they can't, and they won't. Thirty years of on-again, off-again "dialogue" was simply their way of running out the clock.

Dalai Lama's brothers have begun to pass away, and the decrepit Chinese leaders feel they're almost home. Let this be a lesson for any future dealings with the CCP, by anyone. The better part of one good man's entire life has been spent hoping for some good faith from them. It just isn't there.

Let the Tibetans decide accordingly.

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