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Labrang Truth-tellers Escape to Freedom

May 15, 2009

Agam's Gecko blog
May 13, 2009

Five Buddhist monks from the Labrang Tashi Kyil
Monastery in Tibet's eastern Amdo province (Ch:
Gansu) have reached safety in India, after more
than a year spent dodging Chinese security forces
in their occupied country. The men were on the
run from Chinese authorities due to having
engaged in free speech activities — a peaceful
protest demonstration in Labrang town on March
14, 2008, and an unapproved press briefing at their monastery on April 9, 2008.

Gedhun Gyatso and Kelsang Jinpa, both aged 39,
reportedly helped to organise a procession
through downtown Labrang (Ch: Xiahe), four days
after the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan
National Uprising of 1959. In their national
capital city Lhasa, many similar processions had
been violently suppressed beginning on March 10,
with non-violent chanting monks beaten up and
detained by Chinese security forces. After five
days of this violent response to non-violent
demonstrators, a riot broke out in Lhasa late on
March 14 in which both Chinese and Tibetans were killed.

Lobsang Gyatso, 24, Jamyang Jinpa, 24, and Jigme
Gyatso, 23, participated in an appeal for the
world's help during a Chinese stage-managed
"international media tour" which visited their
monastery on April 9, 2008. Several dozen of
Labrang's monks suddenly appeared before the
startled journalists and camera crews, bearing
their banned Tibetan national flag and banners
reading such things as, "We do not have freedom
of speech". The unapproved press briefing was
extremely embarrassing to the Chinese colonial
authorities, who had hoped to prove that all was
perfectly well in Tibet by having a compliant
foreign press listen to scripted recitations of
the PRC talking points. These three men were
among the courageous ones who foiled that plan.

Let's have a little reminder of what that looked
like. Remember, these men knew they were risking
everything when they did this -- potentially
including their lives. That is the emotion one
can hear in the voices. Chinese officials and
security are watching it all take place, unable
to intervene because the cameras are rolling.
 From the testimony of Lama Jigme we know that
severe retribution was dealt to some of these men after the cameras were gone.

This escape was first reported by Radio Free
Asia, which interviewed them on arrival in New
Delhi. Those who had participated in these two
events learned that they were targets for arrest,
and an unknown number took to the mountains
around Labrang and tried to avoid capture in small groups.

"We lived like animals, moving from place to
place. But this was better than prison," [Gedhun]
Gyatso, one of the protest organizers, said in an interview.

Gedhun, Kelsang and another companion were
surrounded by Chinese police in the mountains
after two months of hiding. The two of them
escaped but the other companion was captured and remains in prison.

Jamyang Jinpa told RFA that they had learned of
the foreign reporters' visit to Labrang via the
RFA's Amdo language broadcast. They didn't know
the date of the planned visit, but they prepared
themselves for the "good opportunity" to reach out to the world.

"We called for freedom for Tibet and for the
release of Tibetan political prisoners, including
the Panchen Lama," [Jamyang] Jinpa said.

Jamyang added that a lama had advised them to
escape after Chinese troops surrounded the
monastery when the journalists were gone. They
dressed themselves in laymen's clothing and headed for the hills.

The monks reached Dharamsala on Sunday, to a
heroes' welcome as they stepped off the early
morning bus from Delhi. A press conference was
held on Monday -- a real press conference this
time, without fear of Communist Party reprisal. Phayul reports:

"We couldn’t remain silent when peaceful Tibetan
protests in Lhasa and other places were being
brutally crushed down, and our fellow Tibetans
were being killed for holding peaceful demonstrations," [Gedhun] Gyatso added.

Jamyang Jinpa directly addressed the Chinese
government's claim that Tibetans are happy and
content under their rule, and that the protests
which swept Tibetan regions last year (and
continue in smaller scale) were the work of
foreign-based "splittist instigators".

"What has been happening in Tibet from last year
is a spontaneous outcome of deep rooted
resentment Tibetan people have had against the
Chinese government. No one was there to tell us
to protest. Situation alone compelled us to come
out on the street," Jinpa said.

The men say their newfound freedom has not given
them a sense of relief. They did what they did on
behalf of their people, and their people remain
under the Communist Party's boot.

"Thinking of Tibet makes us feel worried. Our
greatest concern is for those who are still
suffering in Tibet. Many Tibetans are undergoing
torture in Chinese custody," Gyatso said.

The Tibet Post also covered the no fear press
conference (although it seems to get both
incident dates incorrect), and offers additional
statements by the new arrivals. Jamyang Jinpa
described the Chinese policy in his country this way:

"Population transfer has made us a minority in
our own country, we have been colonized by the
Chinese, and Tibetans are forced to acknowledge a
fake Panchen Lama. [T]here is no religious
freedom in Tibet, we are forced to denounce His
Holiness the Dalai Lama who is at the core of our
heart, from who we seek refuge and salvation."

The press conference was also reported on the
Tibetan exile government's website, which
curiously refers to the men as "youths" rather
than monks. The two older men participated in the
monks' procession through Labrang town (39 is a
bit old for a "youth") while the three younger
men were appealing to journalists at the
monastery (the monks you see in the video above
-- Jigme Gyatso can be recognised at the end of the clip).

The coverage of this great escape has so far been
seen on ... the Tibetan exile media only. Up to
posting time, this has not been reported on any
mainstream international news service, many of
whom were present when these monks and others
risked everything simply to talk to them last
year. This is also very curious, since there are
plenty of extra international journalists in
India now for the election, and most of those are
surely in New Delhi (where these notable escapees first arrived five days ago).

The farming boycott in eastern Tibet is
continuing through the last part of the planting
season, according to Geshe Monlam Tharchin, a
member of the Tibetan parliament in exile. In a
report gathered from local sources in the Derge
region of Kardze Prefecture, Chinese are
reportedly taking land from Tibetans who refuse
to cultivate in some areas, and buying up Tibetan
farms in other areas for use as a military base,
in an increased military presence in the region.

It's now too late in the season for planting
wheat, but authorities continue to pressure
Tibetans to plant potatoes, peas, and similar
crops. Local authorities reportedly issued
announcements that, "If you will not to plant the
farms, our military will use those farms for our
purpose." Many people, mainly men, are escaping
their towns and villages on the pretext of
gathering medicinal plants. Pressures applied to
the population through officially-organized
public meetings are meeting resistance, and when
asked why they won't plant their farms, the
responses are along the lines of, "We Tibetans in
the areas are united in our efforts to show our
strong solidarity to our brothers and sisters
those who lost their lives and those who have
faced and are facing brutality, suffering and genocide under the Chinese rule."

In the former East Turkestan (Ch: Xinjiang)
similar policies apply to those who do cultivate
their land, but in those cases the beneficiaries
will be Chinese businessmen. This is a fine
glimpse into China's policies in her colonial
holdings, where contracts and leases mean little
when a governmental authority happens to run short of cash.

In 1983 the government leased wasteland in
northern Xinjiang Uyghur "Autonomous" Region to
local peasants, on the condition that they grow
fruit orchards. By now the orchards are well
established and productive, and the government
intends to break the 50 year lease, expropriate
the land paying a fraction of its value, and sell it to Chinese businessmen.

Township government chief Abdusamet said the
orchards would be better managed if they were bought back.

"The farmers are unable to manage their orchards
well," he said. "That is why the township
government will take it back -- we will manage it better."

"We will auction the orchards to Chinese
businessmen from the rest of China," Abdusamet said.

"The Uyghur farmers are unable to benefit from
these orchards, and our township government needs income," he said.

So the 25 years of work which created the
orchards and made them profitable, is translated
as, "unable to manage their orchards well," and
the government will "manage it better." (This
sounds familiar.) It will do that by tearing up
the contracts, buying the land at 20% of its
value, and selling it to Chinese businesses. The
real reason is almost an afterthought — local government needs the money.

A court in Dzoge County, Ngaba T-"A"-P (Ch:
Sichuan province) sentenced three Tibetans to
prison on unknown charges, according to a report
received by Voice of Tibet radio. Jampel, 29, and
Lama, 23, both of the Chashang Taringtsang family
were sentenced to four years, while Namkho, 27,
of Chashang Kyajigtsang family got three years.
The source said that arbitrary charges, arbitrary
sentences and no choice in legal representation
are the common standards of justice in Ngaba.

Former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav
Havel has called for basic standards to be upheld
in the election for members of the UN Human
Rights Council. Terming the election process a
"farce" — and he should know farce as well as he
knows totalitarianism, as the playwright himself
composed a number of farces -- he called for
adherence to the Council's founding resolution to
"uphold the highest standards in the promotion
and protection of human rights" during member selection.

Yesterday, China received 167 votes from the 191
member states present in the General Assembly. It
wasn't much of a contest, with 20 candidates for
18 open seats. China hailed its own electoral
success, citing its "remarkable achievements in
the field of human rights." If that's the
"highest standard" the UN can come up with, we're all in trouble.
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