A voice for others

Published On:
Friday, September 19, 2008
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During the Beijing Olympics, I heard about China’s horrible human rights record. I knew they were involved with Sudan (They allegedly fund the Janjaweed military that is involved in the Darfur genocide.) But I did not know much about Tibet.

I decided to investigate.

Though the Olympics raised awareness to this cause, it was primarily because there were news reports of activists being arrested. I feel nobody got to the core of this issue.

Tibet was a sovereign nation before 1949 when the People’s Republic of China invaded the country. They still occupy the country today.

In “Contemporary Tibet,” Barry Sautman and June Teufel Dreyer said, “The conflict over Tibet has above all been its political status.” Thus meaning, should Tibet be independent or a part of China?

I will leave that for world leaders and more politically savvy people to discuss. What I want to talk about covers basic human rights.

“Both the Tibetan government in exile and the Tibetan Youth Congress have compared China’s actions in Tibet to the Nazi extermination of the Jews,” Sautman and Dreyer said. About 1.2 million Tibetans have died from inhumane causes such as war, hunger or imprisonment.

On the International Campaign for Tibet’s Web site, Prisoner Ngawang Sangdrol said, “When they were torturing us it was literally as if they were trying to kill us. Prison guards would hit and beat with all their strength.” Sangdrol was imprisoned for peaceful protests in the early 1990’s. He was lucky enough to be released a few years ago.

Chinese officials repress free speech, as can be seen in Sangdrol’s case. We might find it outrageous, but according to International Campaign for Tibet, “Reasons for arrest can include printing political leaflets, shouting reactionary slogans, encouraging reactionary singing, hoisting or possessing the Tibetan flag, participating in demonstrations and/or showing allegiance to the Dalai Lama.”

If America were to abide by these laws, I would be in jail. Writing this column could get me arrested.

Religion has always been intermixed with politics in Tibet. The two head officials of the government in exile are religious figures, the Dalai Lama and Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche. Separating the politics and religion in Tibet would be very hard. But this is what China is attempting. The Chinese Communist Party refuses to let Tibetans have any religious beliefs, let alone conduct religious ceremonies.

With all this repression going on, the Tibetan culture is being lost. This is what Sautman and Dreyer call a “cultural genocide.”

This situation is horrible.

However, we have something Tibetans don’t — a voice.

Advocacy is much simpler than many people think. It doesn’t all involve organizing lavish events and throwing large sums of money to a certain cause. It starts with educating people. There are numerous Web sites with more information, such as http://savetibet.org.

We must be armed with knowledge to make a difference. Ignorance is not always bliss.

It is also possible to send a letter or two — or 12 — to the presidential candidates to let them know Tibet is an important issue. Calling on world leaders like this is important, especially since it is election time.

Let us make a difference for those people we don’t even know. Let us be a voice for those who have none.

But, most of all, let us be good moral people and stand up for what’s right.

Reach the columnist at andrew.hedlund@asu.edu.