China censors social media in Tibet fire breakout at the hallowed Tibetan Buddhist temple.

China censors social media in Tibet fire breakout at the hallowed Tibetan Buddhist temple.
February 19, 2018

CNN, February 19, 2018 – Fire appears to have engulfed the gilded roof of Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest temple, though details on the extent of the damage are scarce even two days later.

Chinese state-controlled media confirmed a blaze broke out Saturday at the Jokhang Temple in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, and reported that it was quickly brought under control. No injuries were reported.

Authorities appear to be censoring mentions of the fire online and suppressing any details of the cause or aftermath.

Some social media posts on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform like Twitter, appear to have been erased by government censors. The ability to re-post and comment on other posts was disabled by Monday afternoon after working earlier in the day.

The status of Tibet is one of China’s most sensitive politics topics. Travel to the region is heavily restricted and news about the region is often censored.

Jokhang Temple is widely considered to be one of the most sacred and important sites in Tibet. Buddhist pilgrims prostrate themselves in front of the temple every day, as they have since it was first built in the 7th century.

Devastating news from Lhasa of the Jokhang temple on fire.

CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of videos being shared online showing the fire, and could not reach authorities for comment due to the Lunar New Year holiday.

Chinese state media Xinhua said the bustling Barkhor market which surrounds the temple was reopened Sunday. The temple was also open Sunday but will be closed for the next few days as monks celebrate the New Year holiday, Xinhua reported.

China’s state-controlled Tibet Daily News confirmed there had been a fire but it has since been put out. No one was hurt and the surrounding area is now “back to normal,” according to the paper.

Jokhang is one of China’s most heavily-secured sites.

The square outside the temple has seen a number of anti-China demonstrations by Buddhist monks over the years, protesting what they say are consistent attempts by the Chinese government to suppress Tibetan culture and religious freedom.

The temple itself is constructed mainly of wood. It’s age, primary building materials, constant burning of incense inside and the fact that the interiors are small and cramped, would make firefighting difficult. A CNN team that visited the temple in 2016 saw little firefighting equipment.

Simmering tension

Tibet was de facto independent following the collapse of the Qing dynasty, but was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China in 1951, after the communist party won the country’s civil war, to the chagrin of many in the Tibetan Buddhist community.

After a failed revolt against Chinese rule in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama — Tibet’s spiritual leader — fled to India. The Dalai Lama’s former home, the Potala Palace, is located just a few kilometers away from Jokhang Temple.

Simmering defiance from Tibetans sometimes boils over into large-scale riots. Activists say more than 140 people have lit themselves on fire in protest of Beijing’s rule since 2009.

China requires all foreign tourists to have permits and sometimes shuts down access for weeks at a time. It only rarely allows reporters to visit the region. CNN has been permitted to visit twice since 2006.

However, China has been grooming the region for a boom in tourism. New villages have been built and a second rail line, connecting Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, to Lhasa has been. China already has a 1,956 kilometer railway line between Qinghai and Tibet.

Many Tibetans feel that the increase in visitors and the influx of Han Chinese, China’s dominant ethnic group, has put their native culture and religion under siege from a government that sees religion as an existential threat to their leadership.

US lawmakers lash out at Mercedes-Benz for kowtowing to China over Tibet

US lawmakers lash out at Mercedes-Benz for kowtowing to China over Tibet
February 19, 2018

By Matthew Pennington

The Washington Post, February 14, 2018 – Two Republican lawmakers lashed out Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz for apologizing in China for quoting Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in a social media post.

Sen. Marco Rubio complained that many major companies “are increasingly prepared to toe Beijing’s line.” Rep. Chris Smith called it “corporate capitulation.”

Last week, Mercedes-Benz issued an apology in China after a Dalai Lama quote – “Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open” – appeared on its Instagram account. The auto company apologized for “wrong information” that “hurt the feelings of Chinese people.”

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in northern India, of seeking to split the territory of Tibet from China. He says he only wants autonomy and to protect the region’s distinctive Buddhist culture.

The apology followed a series of incidents in which major corporations have bowed to criticism from China. Delta Air Lines, hotel operator Marriott, fashion brand Zara and other companies have also offered up apologies for referring to self-ruled Taiwan, semi-autonomous Hong Kong, and Tibet as countries on websites or promotional material.

Smith, an arch critic of China’s authoritarian government, singled out Delta and Marriott for apologizing, and declared: “Corporate America needs to get more of a backbone.” Rubio said there was a “grim irony” in China demanding the removal of a post on Instagram, which is blocked inside China.

The lawmakers were speaking at a hearing on Tibet of the Congressional Executive Commission China which monitors human rights and the rule of law in the Asian nation. Among the witnesses was Tibetan filmmaker, Dhondup Wangchen, who fled to America last December after serving a six-year prison term for “subversion of state power.” He had distributed writings of the Dalai Lama and made a documentary on conditions in the Himalayan territory.

US Congress introduces resolutions to commemorate Tibet’s 1959 uprising as “Tibetan Rights Day”

US Congress introduces resolutions to commemorate Tibet’s 1959 uprising as “Tibetan Rights Day”
February 19, 2018

International Campaign for Tibet, February 15, 2018 – Today, Senators Leahy (D), Feinstein (D), and Cruz (R) and Representatives McGovern (D) and Hultgren (R), introduced companion resolutions to commemorate the 1959 Tibetan Uprising as “Tibetan Rights Day” on March 10, and to support the human rights and religious freedom of the Tibetan people in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The resolutions recall that on March 10, 1959 the people of Lhasa rose to protect the residence of the Dalai Lama, fearing for his life, and that an estimated 87,000 were later killed during the ensuing violent crackdown orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party. Furthermore, the resolutions recalls that March 10, 2018 is also the tenth anniversary of the 2008 protests that started in Lhasa and then spread across the Tibetan plateau, which were brutally suppressed by Chinese authorities. At least 152 Tibetans have self-immolated inside the PRC in protest against Chinese rule since then.

The resolutions stigmatize the PRC’s interference in the religious freedom of the Tibetan people, specifically noting the enforced disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama and the installation of their own candidate in his place. The resolution also cites the 14th Dalai Lama’s statement on the identification of a 15th Dalai Lama, saying, “no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends” by PRC authorities.

“We stand by the Tibetan people, who have long been our unwavering friends,” Senator Leahy said in a statement issued in support of the resolutions, calling Communist Party claims that they have the authority to select a future 15th Dalai Lama “absurd.” “We can foster closer, cooperative relations with China, but until China works with Tibetan leaders to pursue a new way forward, their reputation in the community of nations, and their ability to act as a global power, will remain deeply tarnished,” he concludes.

The resolutions recognize March 10, 2018 as “Tibetan Rights Day,” and oppose the efforts of the PRC to identify and install reincarnate Tibetan Buddhist leaders. They call on the Secretary of State to fully implement the Tibetan Policy Act in cooperation with like-minded states where appropriate, urge the US Ambassador to China to meet with the Panchen Lama, and call for further efforts to open a consulate in Lhasa.

The resolutions were introduced at the end of a week that marked the first visit to Washington, DC of Dhondup Wangchen, a former political prisoner who spent six years in jail for filming the documentary film ‘Leaving Fear Behind.’ Dhondup testified at a Congressional Executive Commission on China hearing on February 14 and met with State Department officials and Congressional leaders.

A former political prisoner sentenced to three years for urging China to follow its policy on ethnic unity

A former political prisoner sentenced to three years for urging China to follow its policy on ethnic unity
February 19, 2018

TCHRD, February 18, 2018 – A prominent former political prisoner who had been detained incommunicado more than a year ago was sentenced to three years on the charge of ‘inciting separatism’ early last month in Tsojang (Ch: Haibei) ‘Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture’ (TAP), Qinghai Province, in the Tibetan province of Amdo.

Mr Tsegon Gyal, 55, was sentenced on 10 January by the Tsojang prefecture intermediate people’s court and has since been transferred to Dongchuan prison in Siling (Ch: Xining) city to serve his term. Sometime before his sentencing, Mr Gyal’s parents had been allowed to meet him for the first time since his detention in December 2016.

The court announced the verdict after more than eight months of holding Mr Gyal’s trial on 3 May 2017. Mr Gyal’s parents and relatives were not invited to observe the closed-door trial. He was not provided any legal representation or access to a fair trial. Until his sentencing, he had been kept incommunicado in the custody of the prefecture State Security Bureau officials at the Kangtsa County detention center.

A source in Tibet informed TCHRD that Mr Gyal was most likely sentenced for publishing a blogpost on WeChat in which he criticised the Chinese government for failing to genuinely promote its policy of ‘ethnic unity’. Successive policies and campaigns implemented by Chinese authorities have shown that the unity promoted among ‘ethnic groups’ is essentially aimed at diluting the distinct cultural and religious identity of Tibetans and other so-called ethnic minorities.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its 78th session in April 2017 ruled that the deprivation of liberty of Mr Gyal was arbitrary and that there is no legal basis to justify his detention. The Working Group also maintained that international norms relating to the right to a fair trial as established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the relevant international instruments were not observed and that Mr Gyal’s detention “constitutes a violation of international law on the grounds of discrimination based on birth, national, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, economic condition, political or other opinion … or any other status, that aims towards or can result in ignoring the equality of human beings.”

The Working Group had transmitted communication concerning Mr Gyal to the government of China on 3 February 2017 but neither receive a response by the deadline 5 April 2017 nor a request for a deadline extension . In cases where there is true and reliable information that a person detained for a regular crime was punished for exercising their fundamental rights, the Working Group asserts that it is the Government’s responsibility to produce specific evidence of the basis of the conviction.

Mr Gyal was charged of ‘inciting separatism’ on 24 December 2016 after more than two weeks of his detention. In detention, he had staged a silent protest by refusing to respond to his interrogators. By exercising his right to silence, Mr Gyal protested against the violation of his right to hire a lawyer and seek legal protection. Chinese Criminal Procedure Law contains weak protection against self-incrimination, or the right to be presumed innocent. Article 14 (g) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights asserts the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself as well as the right not to confess guilt. This right becomes all the more crucial when a person is detained incommunicado and vulnerable to torture and coercive interrogations.

TCHRD strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and sentencing of Mr Gyal without granting him the access to legal representation and the right to a fair trial. Mr Gyal must be released without any delay or conditions because he broke no law. The right to freedom of expression and opinion is enshrined in Chinese Constitution and guaranteed in the international human rights instruments. Chinese authorities must stop the endemic practice of jailing peaceful Tibetan activists and government critics on trumped up charges of ‘inciting separatism’.

South African MP slams China for opposing Tibetan leader’s visit

South African MP slams China for opposing Tibetan leader’s visit
February 12, 2018

Business Standard, February 10, 2018 – South African parliamentarian Sandy Kalyan on Saturday condemned China’s opposition to the visit of Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) President Lobsang Sangay to her country. She called on China to stop “overstepping” on South Africa’s sovereign rights.
“The reaction by the Chinese embassy at the visit to South Africa by Lobsang Sangay, the President of the Central Tibetan Administration, is so over the top and quite ludicrous,” she said, as per a post on the CTA website.

Noting Sangay had been invited by Inkatha party chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi to attend the State of the National Address (SONA) by President Jacob Zuma, she called on China to stop threatening South Africa.
“In a manner reminiscent of a child throwing a tantrum, the Chinese issued a strongly worded statement that the visit would result in Chinese investment being discouraged.”

“Such veiled threats to the government of SA cannot be ever entertained.
If China wants to go, it should go. The time for non-South Africans to hold the South African Government to ransom is long gone.”
The Chinese embassy in Pretoria has strongly protested over Sangay’s visit, accusing the South African government of disregarding the long-standing commitment to ‘One China Policy.

Kalyan, who belongs to the country’s largest opposition party the Democratic Alliance, pointed out that “directing South Africa’s foreign policy is not the mandate of BRICS and that private chats do not translate into policy or promises as alleged by the Chinese government”.
She attended CTA’s five-Fifty forum here in October last where Sangay and the Dalai Lama were also present.
Sangay arrived in Johannesburg on February 5 for his maiden four-day visit – the first ever official visit of a Tibetan political leader to the African continent since the Dalai Lama’s visit in 1996.

At the invitation extended by Inkatha, Sangay was originally scheduled to attend Zuma’s address at the inaugural session of the South African Parliament on February 8, the CTA said, but it was postponed owing to domestic political tensions in South Africa.

The Tibetan administration is based in the northern hill town of Dharamsala where a community of Tibetans lives in exile with their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Former Tibetan prisoner disappears again, less than two years after his release

Former Tibetan prisoner disappears again, less than two years after his release
February 5, 2018

Free Tibet, January 30, 2018 – A former Tibetan prisoner has disappeared from Lhasa, less than two years after his release. Lodoe Gyatso, also known as Sog Khar Lodoe Gyatso, went missing in the Tibetan capital on 28 January 2018.

Although the reason for Lodoe Gyatso’s disappearance is currently unclear, local Tibetans believe that he has been arrested and removed, possibly because he was planning to protest against the Chinese military occupation of Tibet.

Local sources who knew Lodoe Gyatso say that he wanted to organise a peaceful demonstration that would call for the return of the Dalai Lama, who he saw as a leader of world peace, to Tibet. The demonstration would also call for the demilitarisation of armed forces worldwide, including those of China, and for Tibet to become a zone for world peace.

Lodoe Gyatso is one of many Tibetans who have ‘disappeared’ after protesting against the occupation or raising concerns about human rights in occupied Tibet.

Born in 1962 in Sog county in central Tibet, he was first arrested in 1993 in a criminal case and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

On 4 March 1995, while he was in the notorious Drapchi prison, Lodoe Gyatso wrote about his wish to protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He subsequently read out loud a letter on this theme, distributed 300 hand-written letters and shouted pro-Tibet slogans.

Following this protest he was subjected to torture and finally put forward for execution. After the intervention of the United Nations and other human rights groups, the death sentence was commuted to a further six years imprisonment.

In 2013, after over two decades of imprisonment and in very poor health following the torture he experienced, Lodoe Gyatso was released. However, in 2015 and 2016 he was repeatedly arrested and detained after expressing strong criticisms of the actions of Chinese authorities.

More blood on China’s hands: Tibetan nun dies after years of ill health following prison term

More blood on China’s hands: Tibetan nun dies after years of ill health following prison term
February 5, 2018

By Yangdon Demo

Radio Free Asia, January 31, 2018 – A Tibetan nun and former political prisoner, jailed for seven years after calling for an end to Chinese rule in Tibet, has died of complications arising from a chronic ailment she developed after being subjected to torture and poor living conditions during her incarceration, according to Tibetan sources.

Ngawang Tsomo, 51, died on Jan. 27 in Phenpo Lhundrub (in Chinese, Linzhou) county in the Tibet Autonomous Region’s Lhasa (Lasa) prefecture after her health began to deteriorate last year, a source inside Tibet told RFA’s Tibetan Service on condition of anonymity.

“In the summer, she went on retreat in Phenpo Lhundrub county, when her health condition became much worse,” said the source.

“She had developed an acute headache while she was in prison and, after her release, she was unable to seek proper medication for her failing health … As her condition recently became serious, she was taken to the hospital in Phenpo Lhundrub, but she passed away in the corridor of the building while waiting to receive treatment.”

The cause of Tsomo’s death was not immediately clear.

According to sources, Tsomo was arrested in 1993 and initially held in the Gutsa detention center after taking part in a peaceful protest along with several other people in Tibet’s capital Lhasa calling for an end to Chinese rule in Tibet.

A court sentenced her to seven years in jail “in a sham trial, without any due process,” before being moved to Lhasa’s Drapchi Prison, said a second source, who also asked to remain unnamed.

“While in jail at Drapchi Prison, like all other political prisoners, she faced inhumane treatment at the hands of the Chinese prisoner guards,” the source said.

Tsomo was among a group of inmates at Drapchi who in 1998 called for freedom in Tibet after prison authorities attempted to force them to salute China’s flag and sing the national anthem. Guards fired live rounds at the prisoners, killing two, according to the source.

“The [surviving] prisoners were kept under close supervision and suffered tremendously due to retaliation from Chinese officials,” the source said.

“Though she lived through the ordeal, Ngawang Tsomo was among those who were victimized by the Chinese authorities.”

Tsomo was released in 2000 after serving her full sentence, but “her time in jail took a serious toll on her physical health, and she became chronically ill due to the torture and suffering she sustained while in detention,” according to the source.

Additionally, Tsomo was prevented from reenrolling at her former monastery, due to laws prohibiting ex-prisoners from returning to their past lives as monks and nuns, and “faced numerous challenges in society … eking out a living doing odd jobs for all of those years.”

“She had faced so much hardship while alive, and though she is gone now, her legacy and courage will not be forgotten by generations to come,” said the source.

China’s insecurity over Tibet reaches Royal Court Theatre in London

China’s insecurity over Tibet reaches Royal Court Theatre in London
February 5, 2018

Scroll.in, February 4. 2018 – An award-winning Indian playwright accused the Royal Court theatre of censorship after his play about contemporary Tibet was shelved, The Guardian reported on Sunday. Abhishek Majumdar claimed that Pah-la was withdrawn because of fears of negative Chinese reactions.

Pah-la shows the life in contemporary Tibet. Majumdar worked with Tibetans in India and the play draws on such personal stories. In a Facebook post, Majumdar shared a copy of the poster for the play that said it was due to run for a month from October 4 to November 4, 2017.

Majumdar said Pah-la was withdrawn as it may impact an ongoing arts programme in Beijing where Chinese writers are working with the Royal Court theatre and the British Council in China. He claimed that the British Council had “pressurised” the theatre to withdraw it.

Majumdar said that the Dalai Lama had told him to be ready to face resistance. “Now I know what that means,” he said. Majumdar told the Observer that he was now involved in “sensitive” discussions with the Royal Court.

The Royal Court, however, said it had had to postpone and then withdraw Pah-la for financial reasons. It added that the play will be staged in spring 2019. “The Royal Court always seeks to protect and not to silence any voice,” said the theatre. “In an international context, this can sometimes be more complex across communities. The Royal Court is committed to protecting free speech, sometimes within difficult situations.”

A British Council spokesperson said the Royal Court theatre’s programming team is responsible for their decisions about the plays they stage. “We are pleased this play can be staged in 2019: the playwright took part in previous writing workshops we supported in India,” the spokesperson told The Guardian.

Tibetan political prisoner completes 5-year term, barred from returning to his monastery and public speaking

Tibetan political prisoner completes 5-year term, barred from returning to his monastery and public speaking
February 5, 2018

Radio Free Asia, February 05, 2018 – A Tibetan monk jailed for five years for his writings on politically sensitive topics has been released from prison in China’s Qinghai province after serving his full term, but is now banned from speaking at public gatherings, Tibetan sources say.

Gartze Jigme, 41, was freed on Feb. 4 and was returned by his family to his home in Tsekhog (in Chinese, Zeku) county in the Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a Tibetan living in exile said, citing sources in the region.

“His family and friends went to receive him at the prison early in the morning, but it took a long time to process the paperwork, and they were unable arrive at their home until 7:00 p.m.,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Jigme, who was welcomed with ceremonial scarves by relatives, friends, and monks on his return, had been held in a prison in Qinghai’s capital Xining during his time behind bars, the source said.

“He is physically frail, but he shows no signs of major health issues, at least for now,” he said, adding that Chinese authorities had quickly moved to block the online distribution of a photo showing Jigme following his release.

“He has been forbidden from returning to his monastery for one year, and has been banned from speaking public at the invitation of community organizations,” he said.

Caregivers from Dokar township and from elsewhere in the county have now been sent to look after him, the source said.

Politically sensitive writings

Jigme was first detained in April 2011 after he launched a literary journal titled Courage of the King, RFA’s source said.

In the journal’s second edition, a copy of which was obtained by RFA, Jigme wrote extensively on topics considered politically sensitive by China, including self-immolation protests by Tibetans, Tibet’s exile government and spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s environment, and Chinese policies in the region.

Speaking to RFA, a second Tibetan source said that Jigme was taken into custody again in January 2013.

“Police barged into his room and examined his computers. His publications were then banned, and those circulating in the market were pulled back,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

On May 14, Jigme was secretly sentenced to a five-year prison term by the Tsekhog county court, the source said.

China has jailed scores of Tibetan writers, artists, singers, and educators for asserting Tibetan national identity and civil rights since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.

Canadian Foreign Minister requests permission from China to visit Tibet’s Panchen Lama

Canadian Foreign Minister requests permission from China to visit Tibet’s Panchen Lama
January 30, 2018

Ottawa, January 30, 2018 – Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a written statement issued Monday that Canada has requested permission from Chinese authorities to visit Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima, in order to ascertain his well-being. According to the Minister’s statement, the request was made on November 28, 2017. Freeland’s statement came in response to a petition submitted to the House of Commons by MP Randall Garrison.[1]

The statement also provides details about Canada’s intervention on behalf of imprisoned Tibetans, Shokjang (Druklo) and Tashi Wangchuk, who were jailed by Chinese authorities following their efforts to promote Tibetan culture and language.

“We welcome this important support from the Government of Canada” said Sherap Therchin, Executive Director of the Canada Tibet Committee. “We call upon Chinese authorities to release all Tibetan prisoners of conscience jailed for the non-violent expression of opinion or the practice of their religion.”

In her statement, Freeland also reaffirmed Canada’s long-standing commitment to the Panchen Lama who was taken by authorities in 1995 when he was only 6 years old. [2] Neither the boy nor his family have been seen since they were detained. [2]

In November 2017, Senator Denis Patterson led an inquiry in the Canadian Senate requesting stronger Canadian support for Tibetan prisoners of conscience including the Panchen Lama, Shokjang, and Tashi Wangchuk. [4]

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[1] Minister Freeland’s statement is found here: http://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/ePetitions/Responses/421/e-1162/421-01868_GAC_E.pdf

[2] See for example, http://tibet.ca/en/library/wtn/13837

[3] For background information about the Panchen Lama see, http://tibet.ca/_media/PDF/en/Backgrounder_Panchen_Lama_eng.pdf

[4] The Senate Inquiry transcript is available at https://sencanada.ca/en/content/sen/chamber/421/debates/161db_2017-11-23-e#75