(South African National Catholic Weekly Newspaper)
FEB 18-FEB 24
By John Cowan
The Special Envoy of Tibet's Dalai Lama, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, gave extensive details of the massive religious and human rights abuses being inflicted on the Tibetan people by the communist People's Republic of China government (PRC).
Mr. Gyari also expressed his gratitude for the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) decision to endorse the Christian Friends of Tibet in South Africa to promote and defend religious and cultural freedom for the Tibetan people.
In an appeal to the SACBC last year, representatives of the South African Friends of Tibet, together with the international Christian Friends of Tibet (CFT), sought the bishops' support for their Christian response program.
The CFT envisage a specific international 'Christian Response Program' aimed at overcoming the religious and human rights abuses being inflicted on the Tibetan people by the Chinese government.
In January this year Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban notified the CFT that the SACBC had endorsed their work to promote and defend religious and cultural freedom and other human rights of the Tibetan people.
Since the invasion of Tibet in 1950 by the Chinese government, and particularly since the Dalai Lama was forced to flee into exile in 1959, the history of Tibet has been characterized by the worst excesses of brutal occupation of one country by another.
Mr. Gyari detailed several of these religious and humanitarian abuses being inflicted on the Tibetan population.
He began by describing the conditions and stated that it was not his intention to exaggerate the gross violations of Tibetan religious and human rights inflicted by the Chinese government.
'These facts have already been well documented by international agencies including the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations', he said.
'Violations of the religious freedom of the Tibetans have been the most devastating. There is a reason behind this', he said. ' Communist China fears religion'.
Mr. Gyari then drew a comparison between the former Soviet Union and communist China. He described how, shortly after the former Soviet Union disintegrated, the communist party leaders in China ordered a quick and thorough investigation of the causes that brought about the disintegration of the Soviet system.
'They did this because they wanted to take pre-emptive measures to prevent the same thing happening to China and Tibet'.
'Their investigators reported that the disintegration of the Soviet communist system largely came about because the people's religion,particularly the Catholic faith, had outlived it. This is the view overall in China, particularly for Tibet'.
The Chinese government concluded that they had to take further and more repressive measures against religious people and religious institutions.
'Tibetan nationalism and our commitment to Buddhism are almost inseparable. In many ways our national identity is also much intermingled with our Buddhist culture and tradition. So you can obviously see why the Chinese government is so ruthless when it comes to the denial of our human rights, particularly our rights to religious freedom', he said.
Mr. Gyari described how almost every monastery in Tibet is literally governed by the communist party.
'Right down to how many monks could be admitted to each one. The government has a strong physical presence there all the time and they don't try to hide that fact. When you visit a monastery it is not the priests you approach, it is the communist officer in charge'.
Mr. Gyari discussed the 1989 abduction by the Chinese communists of the Panchen Lama who, one day, will succeed the Dalai Lama if found.
'This', said Mr. Gyari, ' is not just the case of a young boy. It has much to do with the entire issue of Tibet. It is a matter where the Chinese have interfered with both our centuries-old religious and cultural traditions. And, if the Chinese atheists who do not accept religion at all decide to appoint one of the most important religious leaders, you know what that means.'
He said that the issue of the Panchen Lama is of Paramount importance. It revolves not only around the denial of religious freedom, but the entire issue of the Tibet conflict.
Speaking of the fate of the young Panchen Lama, Mr. Gyari explained that his whereabouts are unknown.
'I don't think they will have disposed of him altogether, but he is being kept in places where there is no access whatever. And he is being brought up in an environment where there is very little access for him to have the kind of upbringing that a future religious leader needs to have'.
To the Tibetans this is a matter of extreme urgency and major worldwide campaigns are focused on the Panchen Lama.
Questioned about political prisoners being held by the Chinese government, Mr. Gyari stated that there are a large number of these who have been held prisoner for decades.
'However, the Chinese communists don't accept them as political. The charge against them is, in most cases, for being involved in independence or freedom movements'.
He said that a large number of these prisoners are monks and nuns, people who, because they have received an education, are more conscious of their Tibetan identity.
'The monks and nuns feel that it is their duty to be at the forefront of the independence movement. This is because they know that laypeople have more responsibilities for their families than do the monks and nuns. This is why they are always at the forefront whenever there are demonstrations. They invite attention to themselves so that they are the ones who will be picked up and imprisoned'.
He spoke of compulsory sterilization of women, where individual families are permitted to have only one child. This law, he explained, does not, however, apply to Tibetan families. Being minority nationality group, families are allowed to have more than one child.
Turning to the question of increasing Western nations' economic involvement with the Chinese government, Mr. Gyari felt it was unfortunate that many Western politicians had ignored religion and religious questions in their dealings with the Chinese.
'In fairness to President George.W. Bush, he has been quite strong when it comes to the issue of religious freedom'.
Mr. Gyari has had the opportunty of meeting Presodent Bush on a number of occasions. The Dalai Lama has also met the US President twice.
'He has been much more helpful than many of his counterparts in Europe. For the last few years at least, the Bush administration has been quite strong and persistent in urging the Chinese government to respect the fundamental freedoms of the Tibetans and also to negotiate with the Dalai Lama'.
Discussing present day China and its government, Mr. Gyari spoke of how they respect nations and organisations that are strong in character.
'I believe that countries can have the best relations with China by being very firm on the principles that they believe in. But, unfortunately, many of the politicians feel that they cannot let the Chinese lose face. Therefore they believe that they should not even criticise China because they will get mad. And, if they get mad, they will cancel contracts and the West will lose out economically'.
He said that China respected any nation or administration that extends a hand of friendship, but at the same time is very firm with regard to the principles that are individually important.
'People who do not criticise China do more harm than good. If they really want to help, they must make her become more responsible', said Mr. Gyari. ' Today, because many of China's politicians have had an overseas education, they are more prepared to listen. Because of this I think that quite a few of them will have a much broader understanding. But we all need to help China by telling her that what she does to Tibet is deplorable'.