By Haley Edwards
Seattle Times staff reporter
More than 150 people paraded silently through downtown Seattle Saturday afternoon to show solidarity with Tibetans killed and imprisoned by the Chinese government last week in Lhasa, Tibet.
“We are silent in remembrance for those who have died, and for those who still don’t have freedom,” said Tashi Namgyal Khamsitsang, the president of the Tibetan Association of Washington. “We are the spokespersons of the people living inside Tibet who have no voice.”
Waving Tibetan flags and carrying photographs of the Dalai Lama, the demonstrators represented more than half of the roughly 250 Tibetans who currently live in Seattle, Khamsitsang said. About 20 people not directly affiliated with the Tibetan community protested as well.
“This is everybody’s issue,” said Bert Sacks, a 66-year-old Jewish man from Phinney Ridge. “The Jews have suffered under occupation, so it’s only right that I protest when another group is suffering under occupation, too.”
The protests in Lhasa began Monday to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan rebellion against Chinese rule in 1959, which forced the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, to flee into exile in India.
Chinese police and Tibetan monks and activists clashed on the streets of Lhasa last week, in what became the largest riot in Tibet in 20 years. People were killed and injured, cars were set on fire, and shops were ransacked and burned.
It is unclear how many protesters were killed, injured or imprisoned in Lhasa. The Chinese government reports 10 deaths. Tibetan Americans in contact with family in Tibet report as many as 100.
The recent violence in Lhasa precedes the Summer Olympics in Beijing this August, which have already been the focus of international contention. Activists, including Britain’s Prince Charles and film director Steven Spielberg, have criticized the Chinese government’s history of human-rights violations and its treatment of Tibet, and threatened to boycott corporate sponsors of the event.
Khamsitsang said he hopes the international Tibetan community can use the worldwide attention to “remind the world of the Tibetan struggle.”
“We have to keep the flame burning. We can do nothing except urge the U.S. government to find a meaningful, lasting solution there,” he said.
The Dalai Lama is scheduled to visit Seattle April 11-15 as part of Seeds of Compassion, an event focusing on the importance of nurturing kindness and compassion, especially in children.
Event organizers said Friday the Dalai Lama is fully committed to the event. “We have no knowledge that it (the situation in Tibet) will affect his appearance in Seattle,” said Pam Eakes, communications director for Seeds of Compassion.