Agam's Gecko
Monday, November 24, 2008
Freedom in exile
Delegates sing the Tibetan national anthem before the conclusion of the special meeting in Dharamsala, November 22, 2008.
Photo: Tenzin Dasel / Phayul

he week-long conference of free Tibetans has concluded in Dharamsala. With roughly 600 delegates from all across the world and representing (as far as possible) the full range of views among Tibetan exiles, the event itself could serve as an example to ideologically straight-jacketed regimes (such as the "People's" Republic) of modern, democratic principles.

The meeting opened on November 17 -- the same date on which, in 1950, a fifteen year-old boy was officially enthroned as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, who took on his responsibilities sooner than was the custom due to the then imminent Chinese invasion. Now, Tibetans living outside the occupation were asked to gather together and assess where the freedom movement has taken their country fifty-eight years later.

The Tibetan leader absented himself from the deliberations in order to avoid unnecessary deference to his own "Middle Way" path, which seeks genuine autonomy rather than the return of Tibet's historical independent status. He wished for a free-wheeling exchange of ideas and strategies to be conducted among the delegates, and understood that his presence might have an inhibiting effect on this debate. Those who advocate for the goal of full and complete independence, and who favour stating this goal plainly to the Chinese government, were reportedly pleased with the open reception their views received.

Due to the composition of the delegations -- mainly from the Tibetan exile establishment -- the full independence-seekers comprised a youthful minority in the meetings. Many participants were reportedly concerned that dropping the Middle Way would result in a loss of international support, which remains a very strong asset in the Tibetan struggle. China does care what the world thinks, and it received many clear messages about that during the Tibet crisis this year. Charting a course between the "Middle Way" and going "All The Way" involves trade-offs on both sides. This is the basic nature of politics.

The convention ended on Saturday, but a final resolution has yet to be released to the public. [UPDATE: The document can now be found here.] It is expected to include a tougher stance on China's blatant insincerity during the previous rounds of bilateral dialogue, and will likely adopt certain conditions for the continuation of that process.

The most basic condition of any meeting should be the expectation of some degree of seriousness from both sides. China appears to want the dialogue process to continue, yet it displays not a shred of sincerity or flexibility. If these meetings serve only as occasions for Chinese officials to harangue and denounce the Tibetans in the state-owned press, to lie about the Dalai Lama and to deny the existence of any problems with their misrule, what's the point?

The Tibetan representatives reaffirmed their "faith and allegiance" to His Holiness' leadership and agreed to continue following the Middle Way path to genuine autonomy -- which the Chinese have consistently labelled as "independence in disguise." If that attitude doesn't change very soon, the Tibetan policy will be revised accordingly.
Among other things, the report also suggests that the talks by Dalai Lama’s envoys with China should be stopped until Chinese leadership is serious about resolving the Tibetan issue. The report further says there was a strong opinion from the meeting that consideration must be given in seeking "independence" if such a move does not bring any result within a short time.
Whether the goal becomes the recovery of Tibetan independence, or it remains for a true autonomous region within China, the Tibetan people will maintain total commitment to their non-violent freedom struggle.

Tibetan Parliament Speaker Karma Chophel said that the convention has called upon China to finally cease defaming the Tibetan leader, which is something the Chinese have done continuously for many years, and which they have stepped up with a deranged ferocity since March.
"The meeting has concluded that China must accept that this year’s unrest in Tibet is a result of its misrule and wrong policies adopted against the Tibetan people for the last many decades. China has said it has evidence to prove that Dalai Lama’s exile groups have instigated the riots in Tibet, but they have already failed to show any evidence to prove their accusations," he added.
Chinese communists never need any evidence, but they should get a grip on themselves anyway. This behaviour only cements their reputation as uncivilised thugs in the eyes of the world. The Tibetans are offering constructive advice here.

Chophel also revealed that during the latest bilateral talks early this month, the Tibetan envoys had challenged the authorities to allow independent opinion polling in Tibet. While any normal government would be pleased to know what its people are actually thinking, the Chinese government does not fall into this category. The last thing they're interested in is what the Tibetan people think.

Maura Moynihan, who lived in India as a child when her father was the US ambassador, has been sending dispatches from the Tibetan special meeting. In her second dispatch (the first one is here), she sought to clarify the issue of Deng Xiao Peng's promise to the Dalai Lama's elder brother in 1979, which the current Chinese communists now deny. In discussing this issue, Gyalo Thondup touched upon the apparent reason that Chinese leaders are not interested in what the Tibetans think.
"I don't understand the new hard-line in China. The world is changing; China is changing. But my Chinese friends tell me that the regional officials treat Tibet like a private pocketbook. They don't want any dialogue, any solution, because they are making a fortune exploiting Tibet."
The now-disputed statement by the successor of Mao has formed the basis of Tibetan hopes for a mutually agreeable solution with China for nearly 30 years. Deng told Gyalo Thondup, now 80, that "except for independence all other issues can be settled through discussions." Deng's successors are now reneging on that promise.
"Comrade Deng Xiaoping had never made such statement. It is a falsehood made by Gyari and is a complete distortion of Deng Xiaoping's statement," Zhu [Weiqun, executive Vice-Minister of China’s Central United Front Work Department] said at a press conference organised by Information Office of the State Council in Beijing on November 10, 2008.
Gyalo Thondup confirmed that on his first visit to China, Deng Xiao Peng had indeed made that exact statement to him personally on March 12, 1979. He also pointed out that various other Chinese officials had made the same statement, including premier Li Peng in an interview with Xinhua on 19 May, 1991. This officially-stated policy is what had originally prompted the Dalai Lama to renounce independence in favour of genuine autonomy within China. Now the Chinese will apparently deny their own history, in the interest of continuing Tibetan subservience under their colonial rule.

So it seems we are set for many more of the same tiresome denunciations from Chinese state officials and their propaganda organs which have charmed people the world over, such as this one.
The Chinese state-run Tibet Daily newspaper yesterday ruled out granting Tibet the kind of autonomy enjoyed by Hong Kong. It described the middle way as "a naked expression of Tibet independence aimed at nakedly spreading the despicable plot of opposing the tide of history". The official Xinhua news agency said the Dalai Lama aimed to set up a "covertly independent" political entity on one quarter of Chinese territory.
If anyone could hazard a guess as to what "covert independence" might possibly look like, I'd love to hear it. Suggestions from communist cadres are also welcome. I keep getting the image of a Tibetan in a concrete dungeon somewhere, recuperating between interrogation sessions with eyes closed, contemplating his or her covert freedom. "My body is chained but my mind is free like a bird." In that sense, given what we've seen this year, perhaps Tibet already has "covert independence."

The Tibet Daily editorialist's fixation with nakedness is interesting, in light of the revelation that Chinese policy regarding the dialogue process was rendered momentarily naked following a security breach of a hardline state official's personal computer. Bi Hua was a bureau director in the Communist Party's United Front Work Department before she was sacked and put under investigation for the loss of classified documents relating to the Tibet - China dialogue process, reportedly due to "hacking."
"She is under investigation," one source told Reuters. "But she insists she has done nothing wrong."

Her computer was hacked by unknown individuals, and classified documents stolen, the sources said.

It enabled the Dalai Lama's representatives to have a heads-up as to Beijing's bottom line toward talks.

"It was a major leak," a second source said...

"People are very surprised. She was very hardline," the second source added, referring to her dismissal. "Even the old Communist Tibetan cadres could not stand what she was saying."
Payback for all those denial of service attacks and assorted hackery on Tibetan organisations' websites this year? Oh, and all that other cyber-spying too? It would be nice to think so.

Pilgrims under arrest
Fourteen pilgrims from Sershul District, Kardze were arrested near a Lhasa monastery and held at the Barkhor police station on November 4, 2008. Most are monks and nuns; the eldest is 75.
Photo: Tibet Solidarity Committee
Meanwhile, back in their foreign-occupied country, sentencing continued for Tibetans arrested during the spring protests. Earlier this month, Ngaba People's Court sentenced five Tibetans to four year prison terms, with a sixth person receiving a bump up to six years for opening his mouth in court. Ra-Tsedak had reminded the court that, beyond their precious "state financial losses," many Tibetans had actually lost their lives. Two extra years for saying that. During several days of sentencing hearings, hundreds were given lesser punishments, while the heavier sentences would be "kept for later," according to local sources.

In southern Amdo, two monks were given ten years each for "splittism" and communicating to the outside world. In Dartsedo, Kardze Prefecture, five nuns were each sent down for four years and another nun for three years. Two of them told the court that, since the only hope for them to see the Dalai Lama's return was through independence, they would continue to strive for independence. All six are nuns from Drakkar Nunnery in Kardze.

Also in November, three monks in Dzoge County, Ngaba were sentenced to two years in prison for demonstrating in March. Their monastery, Thangkor Sogtsang, is under heavy surveillance while living quarters for police and other security forces are being built on the premises. Three other monks who protested on June 6 in Drango County, Kardze, were given 3, 4 and 5 year sentences by the Dartsedo court. They had distributed leaflets bearing the Tibetan national emblem, the snow lion.

Tashi Woeser of Chamdo asked his relative in Lhasa, over the phone, when Tibet would get its independence. The call was heard by security agents; Tashi was sentenced to one year in prison.

The Dartsedo court also handed down a six year sentence to a monk from the Golog Serthar Buddhist Center for taking part in protesting of Chinese rule in May.
"The family members of those Tibetans who were sentenced were neither informed [of the trial] nor offered a chance to find lawyers to defend the cases," a source in Draggo county [in Chinese, Luhuo] said.
Re-education is running full swing at schools in Lhasa.
"For example, students in some schools were told to write essays about the events of March 14. Those who wrote that these events involved [the rights of] ethnic nationalities were expelled and punished," the source said. "In Lhasa, the police are always looking for monks and nuns. If any are found, they are sent home, while those who are suspected of anything are taken away. In this way, we have to live unhappy lives."
Re-education is also being attempted via SMS broadcast of anti-independence text messages.

A group of 20 Tibetan students escaped into India last week, bringing with them accounts of some of the Chinese atrocities committed in their country since the spring uprising. Most Tibetan towns, according to the liberty-seekers, are "swarming" with soldiers who will arrest people for simply mentioning Dalai Lama's name. Homes are frequently raided at night, hundreds of people remain missing, and beatings by the security forces are common, said members of the group which had avoided military checkpoints while trekking for weeks over the frozen Himalayan mountain passes.
"Soldiers picked up my uncle from his house, dragged him by his hair and kicked him in the face and stomach," Tsomo, a 30-year-old woman using only one name, told Reuters on Saturday.

"Later we learnt that he died in a lock-up."
The escapees confirmed reports which have filtered out of their country in recent months, telling reporters that Chinese atrocities have been increasing, along with the weight of China's smothering repression. Parents support their children's flight as it's the only way for them to avoid Chinese ideological indoctrination.
"These days we speak in hushed tones about Dharamsala and His Holiness in Tibet. The authorities do not allow us to even carry a photograph of our leader," Gyaltsen, 17, another escapee, said.

"We were not happy in Tibet. Life there is miserable as we have to constantly live in fear of being arrested," Tsomo said.
For Tibetans under the Chinese boot, fear of arrest is largely the fear of what comes along with the arrest, namely physical abuse and torture. On Friday, two weeks after its members criticized China for failing to provide requested information and refusing to answer questions, the UN Committee Against Torture released its findings on China's compliance with the Convention Against Torture (which China "ratified" 20 years ago). [All documents and submissions are available from this page, and the final report is this one (pdf file).]

The Committee criticised China for the "routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment" of suspects, especially in extracting confessions. The panel also raised the issue of "secret detention facilities" which are used to detain human rights petitioners.
"(China) should investigate, disclose the existence of any such facilities and the authority under which they have been established and the manner in which detainees are treated, and make reparations to the victims of enforced disappearances where appropriate," it said.
Many Tibetans have been forcibly "disappeared" this year without a trace. These seriously abusive and illegal practices are corroborated by "numerous Chinese legal sources," the Committee said. It includes Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Eleventh Panchen Lama kidnapped by the state in 1995, as being among these enforced disappearances.

The report directly addresses the severe repression in Tibet, and states that there are "longstanding reports of torture, beatings, shackling and other abusive treatment, in particular of Tibetan monks and nuns," while noting that no inquiry has been made into the "arrests, firing on crowds of peaceful demonstrators, torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment during the recent repression in Tibet." Let the news agencies please not overlook the more than 200 Tibetans who were actually killed during the brutal crackdown, for which the UN panel calls on China to conduct inquests.

The Committee also thought it would be really nice if China would apologize for slaughtering her own democracy advocates back in 1989. Which of course it would, and which of course they won't.

The International Campaign for Tibet was one of the organisations (along with the Tibetan Government and TCHRD) which submitted reports to the Committee (all available from here). ICT welcomed the panel's recognition that China has "failed to respond according to its international obligations."
"We are especially pleased that the Committee has called for a 'prompt, impartial and effective investigation' of the situation on the ground in Tibet, an appeal that the Dalai Lama has been making since March and that his envoys travelled to China to directly convey to Chinese officials.

"Governments around the world should take serious note of the Commission’s findings and bring them into their human rights discussions with China and resolve to press Beijing to ease its hard line policies and engage with the Dalai Lama in good faith," said Tsering Jampa, Executive Director of ICT Europe.
The International Campaign draws attention to the Committee's specific "expressed concerns" related to Tibet:
The large number of Tibetans arrested after March 2008 and the "reported lack of restraint with which persons were treated";

The failure by the Chinese authorities to investigate deaths of Tibetans "from indiscriminate firing by the police into crowds of reportedly largely peaceful demonstrators" in Kardze county, Ngaba county and Lhasa;

The failure to conduct independent and impartial investigations into the use of torture, as well as China’s refusal to allow independent investigators, including the UN and Red Cross, into Tibet;

China’s failure to inform the Committee of the whereabouts of "a large number of persons" who have been arrested since March, but whose fate remains unknown.
This then is the context in which those Tibetans fortunate enough to live in liberty had gathered last week, with a mission to chart a course forward for their civilisation's very survival. This is what they are up against.

If there exists a more patient and accommodating nation on the face of this planet, I've never heard of them.

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