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Tibetan poet sues China for passport

July 27, 2008

By Clifford Coonan in Beijing
The Independent (UK)
July 25, 2008

Woeser has been waiting 1,151 days for a passport. As one of Tibet's
most famous poets, she has never shied away from voicing her
criticism of the Chinese government even though she is resident in
Beijing. Now she is taking her protest one step further and is suing
the authorities to get the document.

"For so long now, many Tibetan people have met difficulties applying
for a passport. Some people will walk for a long time, climbing
snow-capped mountains to arrive in Nepal to get their right as a
citizen," she said yesterday.

"In China, no matter whether you are from Beijing or Changchun, it is
always very easy and convenient to apply for a passport. The
procedure is quite simple. Within 15 days of their application, they
will get a passport. But such an easy procedure is quite unbelievable
for a Tibetan.

"For the past three years, I made many phone calls to ask why [I have
heard nothing]. But the government did not give me any clear answer.
They just did all they could to delay me," she said. Woeser believes
that her request has a slim chance of being accepted, but she is
totally convinced it needs to be made. The world's attention is
firmly focused on China, with the Olympic Games just two weeks away.

And she believes her lawsuit is another way of ensuring the world
does not forget about a Chinese clampdown she believes has worsened
since the riots that erupted in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in March.
The clampdown has been one of the focal points for anti-Chinese
sentiment around the world. Beijing says the riots took 22 lives, but
foreign activists claim the riots killed many times that number.

Woeser is a famous figure in Beijing and the best known blogger on
Tibetan subjects in China. She is 42 years old, slight, and very
courageous. Her books are banned in China, and security agents watch
her apartment. Her blogs get shut down and she must come up with new
addresses to dodge the authorities.

She has worked tirelessly for the issues that affect Tibetans, and
writes a blog on controversial subjects such as Aids, prostitution,
the destruction of the fragile Tibetan environment and the new
railway that has become a focus for anti-Chinese sentiment. As one
China watcher put it, she is the "poet who forgot to be afraid".

Woeser is more modest. "I am a writer. I write articles and books.
Maybe the government does not like my words and is not satisfied with
what I'm saying," is how she describes what others have called "risks
that are off the chart".

She may now be one of the most strident voices of dissent today, but
her childhood was altogether more conventional. Her parents were
loyal communists, and her half-Chinese, half-Tibetan father was a
deputy commander in Tibet for the People's Liberation Army. Woeser
was born in 1966 – the start of the Cultural Revolution – and growing
up in Lhasa, she remembers being devoted to Chairman Mao. When she
left to go to high school, and later university, in neighbouring
Sichuan province, the torrent of doubts and questions began.

Since registering her petition with the Changchun Intermediate
People's Court, she has not heard a peep. She does not even know if
her case will be heard. But she remains determined. "I have got every
reason to do this. Laws give every citizen the right to apply for a
passport, and to sue if they suffer something unfair."
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