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Chain of Remembrance for Tibetans at Parliament

Wednesday 23rd April 2008

Chain of Remembrance for Tibetans at Parliament

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Representatives of Wellington’s Tibetan, Buddhist, and human rights communities gathered today at parliament to present a petition to parliament that calls for Helen Clark and the rest of the NZ government to act more strongly on the human rights crisis unfolding in Tibet and to follow up on their recent conversation with the Chinese Government calling for restraint and dialogue.

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The petition was presented by the Tibetan Solidarity Network and was received by Green Party MP Sue Kedgley. The petition stretched all the way down the steps of parliament to the cheers of the crowd. Labour MPs Louisa Wall and Lesley Soper were also present, and offered their support for the petition and sentiment behind it.

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The petition itself calls for the New Zealand Government to use any leverage the Free Trade agreement may provide, to strongly urge the Chinese Government:
To respect the human rights of Tibetans (as set out in the Chinese constitution) and to immediately free all Tibetans currently incarcerated for peacefully expressing their political and religious beliefs; to allow international monitors and journalists access to Tibetan areas to ascertain exactly what is happening; and to engage in direct negotiations with the Dalai Lama for a genuine and meaningful solution to the Tibetan issue.

The petition collected more than 1370 signatures in a matter of weeks. A similar petition from concerned people in Christchurch and Whangarei was presented at the same time with some 1498 signatures, bringing the total to 1498 people urging Helen Clark to act more decisively on the Tibetan issue as a matter of urgency.

Albert Williams of the Tibetan Solidarity Network said ‘it is great that Helen Clark mentioned the need for the Chinese Government to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama while she was in Beijing signing the Free Trade Deal. What we need now is for her to show strong leadership and follow up these polite behind closed doors conversations with some action and integrity. Handing over this petition today shows that many New Zealanders want to send her a strong message that we cannot forget about Tibetan people who are suffering right now’.

Many monasteries and nunneries in Tibet are still locked down[1]. At least two monasteries have had water cut (Ganden in Lhasa and Kirti – Ngaba in Amdo). Tibet supporter s in New Zealand hold grave concerns for the wellbeing of those locked into monasteries, those 4000 who have been arrested (including children as young as ten)[2], those hundreds who have ‘disappeared’ and for the Tibetan people now living under a heavy military and police presence, who are enduring door to door searches.

A large paper chain of human figures was unfurled at the petition hand-over to represent the 150 victims of the recent crackdown in Tibet[3]. The chain stretched 50 metres along parliament grounds and represented those who have lost their li ves in the past 6 weeks in Tibet. If another human figure were added for each of the 1.2 million[4] Tibetans who have lost their lives since the Chinese People’s Liberation Army began their occupation of Tibet in 1949, the chain would stretch 400km, or from parliament grounds to Taupo. This represents a fifth of the Tibetan population. ‘How long does the chain have to be before the New Zealand Government does something to help the people of Tibet?’ the Tibetan Solidarity network asked.

‘If Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd can make a strong public stand why can’t Helen Clark’ said a person signing the petition. ‘If we can be strong on the Governments of Fiji and Zimbabwe, why not stand up for the people of Tibet too?’

The handing over of the petition is timed to draw attention to the plight of Tibetans under oppressive Chinese Government rule, during the period that the recently signed Free trade deal with China goes through the select committee process. Tibet human rights supporters believe that New Zealand has a unique opportunity to speak directly to the Chinese Government about the situation in Tibet during this period, and urge Ms Clark to speak up more strongly in favour of human rights for the people of Ti bet and to follow that up with decisive action.

A participant in the petition hand-over flew a Chinese flag in tandem with a Tibetan flag to show that the issue of human rights in Tibet is about human rights for all Chinese as well.


Notes and References for Press:

-Tibet has been the scene of widespread protests, since March 10, when Tibetan Buddhist monks were arrested for peacefully protesting in Lhasa. On March the 14th, the protests became violent for a few hours. The protests soon spread across Tibet, as Tibetan people took to the streets to call for an end to political, religious and economic oppression, and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Protests have been ongoing and 8 people were shot dead as recently as the 3rd of April at Tonkhor monastery in Garze.

-The petition being handed over is available online at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/NZTibet/index.html

-The Tibetan Solidarity Network want to emphasise that they are not anti Chinese people or culture in any way and acknowledge the right of all peoples living in Tibet and China to human rights and free speech. Their main issue is with the policies and actions of the Chinese Government, Army and Police in regards to Tibet.

[1] See:

[2] See http://www.savetibet.org/news/newsitem.php?id=1289

[3] The conflicting reports of numbers of casualties by the Chinese Government and the Central Tibetan Administration (Government in Exile) are difficult to verify because Tibet has been sealed to foreigners and media since the unrest began o n March the 10th. The Tibetan Government in Exile has issued a list of names of the victims however, and photographic and anecdotal evidence that has leaked out of Tibet suggests the death toll is a least 150.

[4] See http://www.springerlink.com/content/u265253r14581273/ Pg 382.


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