Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Update on Tibetan Situation

Dear Family and Friends,

It is with a heavy heart that I write you from Dharamsala, India. As most of you know, I have spent about half of the past five years in Nepal, India and Tibet with Tibetan people of many different varieties. I returned to Dharamsala in April of this year, at which time the protests and peaceful demonstrations that began in Lhasa on March 10 and spread to every Tibetan settlement in the world had been continuing for almost a month. There was a sense of opportunity and excitement, especially amongst young Tibetans, as well as fear about what the repercussions of the events in their homeland would be.

As the Chinese Communist Party has taken an increasingly heavy hand in its supression of dissent, that atmosphere of excitement has given way to a feeling of hopelessness. Since the last members of the independent press have been evicted from Tibetan areas, reporting on the continued struggle of Tibetans in Tibet for basic human rights has waned. However, we know that the use of deadly force against peaceful demonstrators and mass arrests have only increased, in spite of the fact that anyone thought to be related in any way to any kind of dissent must live in fear of a mid-night abduction by paramilitary police. A previous Tibetan employee of the Lha Community Social Work Organization (a social work organization I volunteer with in Dharamsala, India), who now lives in Canada, wrote the following:

"...My brother, who suffers from tuberculosis,
my sister and two uncles, who have never been involved
in any type of demonstration or protest, were detained
without cause... on the grounds of what can only be assumed as
mere suspicion... My parents figure that at least a couple of
thousand innocent Tibetans from Lhasa City alone are
imprisoned, where they are maltreated, neglected and
possibly tortured. They were finally released... My brother and sister
were first taken... beaten with rifles, kicked and thrown
into a truck. They were taken out of the city to
an unknown location, and were put into a small
concrete room with 400 other Tibetans. There were no
washrooms, and they received no food nor water for two
days and nights. Hardly anyone could stand up by
themselves because of the beatings. After two days
they were transferred to another place where there
were about 6000 Tibetans. There they received a bowl
of rice or small steam cooked bread twice per day.
They received water and had a toilet in this location.
After a week in this place, they were transferred
again, where they stayed around two weeks. Here they
got blankets to sleep with, but before they had to
sleep on the concrete floor (with no blankets). At
this final location they also had first aid
assistance, which was needed as many people had broken
bones. When they released my brother and sister, they
kept my brother's watch and his rosary, which
had some semi-precious stones, and all the money they
had (they don't use banks and keep most of their money
on them)..."


Accounts of torture used on political prisoners in all parts of China are well documented, and many are not fortunate to be released so soon. For example, last Friday a Tibetan nomad was sentenced (without trial) to five years imprisonment for merely shouting 'Long Live the Dalai Lama' at an official's meeting.

I have a close American friend who has been working in eastern Tibet for the last four years, teaching English and working to build schools, clinics and water wells. Although she has never had any trouble extending her visa, in early June a group of officials came to her remote village and gave her ten days to leave China. She worries about why the Chinese government found it necessary to remove her witnessing eyes from a place to which she has dedicated so much. Satellite dishes are now banned there, making it impossible for the locals to get any international (and therefore unbiased) news. She wrote to me:

"The government is also limiting communication in particular areas. Since March they have shut down numerous cellular towers and more recently denied access even on satellite phones...

There may not be any more uprisings: There are troops in every town that has paved roads. The army marches through town streets three times a day, paralyzing the Tibetans with fear. Surveillance cameras were installed in places that don't even have running water. Many monks, nuns and students were forced to return to the area that their ID card was issued, since travel outside of their hometown is officially prohibited right now.

Foreigners are not allowed to stay in areas that have had protests. In Amdo many people remain in prison since the March uprisings- their families unable to come up with bail. Bail can range from $1,000 to $2,000. Private schools have been shut down in Amdo, and teachers and principals face threats of losing their jobs."


I spent June in Kathmandu, Nepal, where peaceful protests are also continuing. On June 19, the father of the Tibetan family I lived with for 3 months in 2003 was arrested with 700 other Tibetans at a demonstration at the Chinese Embassy. Just last Friday, 118 Tibetans were arrested. He said didn't mind the arrest, since international pressure by the UN and the US Ambassador had reduced the violence the Nepalese police were using. However, he was disheartened by the entire situation. There is a growing feeling of hopelessness in the face of the great power of the Chinese Communist government. To my Tibetan friends in Nepal and India that I work with every day, it seems that the all governments, the UN, the media, and especially multinational corporations are ignoring their basic moral obligation to stand up for human rights and democracy in Tibet and everywhere else. Most of them feel like there is little they can do for their relatives and friends back home in Tibet, except maybe pray.

Please dedicate your prayers and aspirations to those suffering in Tibet and China, and also, please make yourself informed!

Peace Love and Light from Dharamsala, India.

1 comment:

Tom said...

michael,

I am saddened reading your important post. somehow, may we learn to push the right pressure points. somehow, may a wave of compassion cloak the region. somehow, may justice and peace find its way into the hearts of men with power. somehow, may misery be ameliorated.