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Tibetan delegation disputes 'lies'

March 19, 2009

By Ken Dilanian
USA Today
March 18, 2009

WASHINGTON -- When asked whether his fellow
Tibetans have been imprisoned and tortured for
expressing their political views, Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak didn't mince words.

"I think that some of them are deliberately
telling lies, and some of them are saying so
because of bias," said Tenzinchodrak, a delegate
to China's national legislature who is also a spiritual leader.

He was part of a delegation of five Tibetan
legislators who were in Washington on Tuesday,
meeting with U.S. officials in an unprecedented
public relations campaign aimed at dispelling
what one Chinese official called "propaganda"
regarding human rights abuses in Tibet.

The visit followed a wave of bad publicity for
China last week after the Dalai Lama, the exiled
Tibetan spiritual leader, said that his homeland
has become a "hell on Earth" under 50 years of
Chinese rule. The delegation also comes at a time
when the Obama administration is trying to
balance criticism of China's human rights record
with the need for Beijing's economic support amid the global financial crisis.

At a news conference at the Chinese Embassy, the
Tibetan legislators in flowing robes proclaimed
that their homeland was a beacon for democracy and economic progress.

They presented a version of history in which
China saved Tibet from a brutal regime of
rapacious landowners under the Dalai Lama. While
some Tibetans protest the anniversary of his
exile, these Tibetan legislators for the first
time, on March 28, will celebrate "Serf Liberation Day."

In an interview with USA TODAY after the news
conference, Tenzinchodrak disputed the
just-released State Department human rights
report, which says the Chinese government's human
rights record in Tibet "deteriorated severely during the year."

"Authorities continued to commit serious human
rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary
arrest, extrajudicial detention, and house
arrest," the report said, adding that the torture
included "electric shocks, exposure to cold and severe beatings."

Tenzinchodrak said through a Mandarin Chinese
translator that the charges were untrue. "The
human rights conditions of today are the best in
the history of Tibet," he said.

Lobsang Sangay, a native Tibetan and senior
research fellow at Harvard Law School, says he is
quite familiar with such delegations. "They are
paraded to read a script," he said. "It's not
surprising that what they say is so out of touch
with the reality that credible journalists and
scholars have reported. It is kind of a desperate
attempt on the Chinese part to whitewash the tragic reality in Tibet."

Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia
University, said it is rare to have native
Tibetans of such high standing willing to speak out in favor of Chinese rule.

"This is a battle of voices," he said. "China
wants to have Tibetans that will speak out, vindicating its claim."

A Chinese Embassy spokesman, Wang Baodong, said
the visit was the first of its kind. He was frank
about the purpose. "We think there is too much
propaganda on the Dalai Lama's side," Wang said.
"It's too one-sided. We are sending this
delegation to try and share with the American people our point of view."

The visit was also geared in part for domestic
Chinese consumption: The news conference and the
interview with USA TODAY were filmed by CCTV, the
Chinese state television network.

The delegation of two woman and three men met
with an official at the State Department, and
were scheduled to call on Rep. John Conyers,
D-Mich., who chairs the House Judiciary
Committee, said Guomin Chen, an embassy official.

The news conference drew a few non-journalists,
including Washington lawyer Lanny Davis, former
special counsel to President Clinton whose law
firm, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, has three offices in China.

"I have the greatest respect for the Dalai Lama
-- but there is another side to the story," Davis said.

Ngawang Sangdrol, a Tibetan activist who says she
was tortured and beaten during 11 years in prison
for political protests, doesn't see it that way.

"If people agreed with their rule, why are people
protesting, knowing they risk torture and
prison?" asked Sangdrol, who now lives in the
U.S. "The Tibetan people have not accepted Chinese rule."
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