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3 November 2011

Michael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) (9:51am):

Earlier this year I visited the seat of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In the foothills of the Himalayas, Dharamsala is the headquarters of eight Tibetan exile settlements in India. Many young Tibetans starved of their culture and facing repression make the heroic trek across the Himalayas to India to the Tibetan community that lives in freedom there.

Since March this year, 10 young Tibetans, including seven monks from the Kirti Monastery in Ngaba, have set themselves alight to protest the Chinese government’s restrictions on their religious and political freedom. Chinese authorities are using extreme force in the crackdown on the Kirti Monastery, where they are enforcing a ‘patriotic re-education campaign’ and have imposed an indefinite ban on religious activities at that critical monastery. The number of monks in the monastery has gone from 2,500 to around 400. Since March Ngaba has seen the presence of civilian and military personnel patrolling the area.

Yesterday the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, Heiner Bielefeldt, said:

“Intimidation of the lay and monastic community must be avoided, and the right of members of the monastic community and the wider community to freely practice their religion, should be fully respected by the Chinese Government.”

The restrictive and repressive measures enforced on the monks at Kirti include security raids and surveillance with police presence inside and outside the monastery to monitor religious activities. Over 300 monks have been disappeared by the Chinese authorities for ‘patriotic re-education’ and many of them remain missing and unheard from by their families. A recent Human Rights Watch study found that per capita annual spending on public security in Ngaba was five times the average spent per person on public security in non-Tibetan areas of Sichuan.

The US State Department has called on China to respect human rights and the rights of Tibetans since the nine young Tibetans have set themselves on fire as a result of these restrictive Chinese practices. The US State Department said:

“We urge Chinese leaders to address counterproductive policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions; and to protect Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity.”

The crackdown on Tibetan monks since 2008 has been brutal. Beijing continues to restrict foreign journalists from travelling to Tibetan areas, jam radio broadcasts of Voice of America and Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan and Chinese language services. This is part of a strategy to eliminate the remnants of Tibetan identity and cultural heritage. The Chinese authorities continue to repress Tibetan culture.

On 19 October 2010, a decision was made to replace Tibetan with Mandarin as the main medium of instruction in Tibetan schools in the Qinghai province. Freedom of movement of monks and nuns is extremely limited within Lhasa and Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan. Last year in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan province, the Chinese government reportedly continued to remove monks under the age of 18, unregistered monks and monks and nuns from outside the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The process of eliminating Tibetan culture and the removal of monks and nuns is a direct violation of the freedom of religion. The Australian government is deeply concerned about reports of self-immolations by monks and nuns. Australian officials last week made renewed representations in Canberra and Beijing to their Chinese counterparts about these reports. Our embassy in Beijing has raised our concerns about reports of the continuing crackdown around the monastery and the province and increased security measures in the Tibetan areas. I entreat the Chinese authorities to respect the religious rights of Tibetan monks and to cease their repressive actions against those in the Kirti Monastery.