|[17 March 2016] On 10 March 2016, the 57th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising, Tibetans and Tibet supporters gathered in central London for a series of events. The commemorations began with a wreath-laying ceremony at Westminster Abbey, followed by a protest outside the Chinese Embassy and a march through central London. The day culminated with an evening programme of speeches and cultural performances.
“A mere palm of the hand cannot hide the sun.” (The 14th Dalai Lama)
On the morning of 10 March, a wreath-laying ceremony was held at Westminster Abbey under the auspices of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet. The ceremony was held at the Memorial to All Innocent Victims of Oppression, War and Violence. A short multi-faith service was led by Reverend David Stanton, Canon in Residence at Westminster Abbey, with Buddhist prayers led by Geshe Tashi Tsering, the Spiritual Director of Jamyang Buddhist Centre.
Reverend Stanton began the ceremony by reminding those gathered that as well as remembering those who died in 1959, we must “remember those Tibetans who have died recently in Tibet, and those who suffer there today”.
Tim Loughton MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, spoke on how the Tibetan cause was not just of a remote people in a faraway corner of the world, but of all humanity, and to “all of us who believe in, and nurture, freedom and liberty”. He spoke of how “the voices of free Tibetans were stifled” during last year’s State Visit of President Xi Jinping, and how it was “to our shame” that Western democracies “kowtowed” in the face of Chinese government pressure.
Uprising Day Rally
At 1.30pm on 10 March, around 200 Tibetans and supporters gathered opposite the Chinese Embassy in London. The rally included Buddhist prayers, the Tibetan National Uprising song and speeches. Chants and slogans were shouted with passion by those congregated, in a dignified and peaceful manner.
The rally began with a minute’s silence in remembrance of those who died during the 1959 Uprising and subsequently as a result of China’s occupation. In the welcoming speech Penpa Sirso, from the Tibetan Community in Britain, also highlighted the recent self-immolations of Dorjee Tsering and Kalsang Wangdu.
Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, Director of Free Tibet (pictured right), was the first of three guest speakers. She spoke on a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 1959, the year of the Uprising. The UN expressed concern that Tibetans’ “fundamental human rights and freedoms… have been forcibly denied them”, and that the UN “deplored” the events that had occurred in Tibet. “If only we could hear such a statement from the UN today,” Ms Byrne-Rosengren added.
The next to speak was special guest Lobsang Tsering (pictured right), the nephew of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, the Tibetan leader who died in prison last year after being tortured and denied medical treatment. Lobsang referred to the recent self-immolations on 29 February 2016, and said the main aspiration of the two teenagers and all those who had self-immolated in recent years was for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet.
During his impassioned speech, Lobsang Tsering declared it was “time for us to walk together” and that, “We need to call for justice and for an end of Chinese rule in Tibet.”
The final speaker at the rally was Ellen Lees, Director of Students for a Free Tibet UK. Ms Lees called out the UK government for its “shameless”kowtowing to China. She urged those gathered to use all available “tools and opportunities” to help the Tibetan cause and to “shout as loud and as long as you can” for Tibetan freedom.
Following the speeches, Tsering Passang, Chairman of the Tibetan Community in Britain, attempted to deliver a letter to the Chinese Ambassador. As in previous years, the Embassy staff refused to open the door and accept the letter. The letter was posted instead.
Uprising Day Peace March
At 3pm, the peace march through central London began, calling for a free Tibet and for China to respect the human rights of the Tibetan people. A portrait of the Dalai Lama was carried at the head of the march by Tibetan monk Lama Lobsang, followed over 200 people carrying Tibet flags and placards with a range of messages including “Tibet is not part of China”, “Tibet will be free” and “Tibetans demand freedom”.
Under clear skies, the march wound its way past a number of famous London landmarks including Oxford Circus, Regents Street, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, along Whitehall and past Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament.
Leaflets were handed out to inform passers-by of the Tibet issue and to encourage participation. Chants of “Human rights in Tibet” and “Long live the Dalai Lama” were called with passion during the two-hour walk to the destination of Westminster Cathedral Hall.
Evening of Commemoration
Following the march, Tibetans and Tibet supporters gathered at Westminster Cathedral Hall for an evening of commemoration. The event began with a Buddhist prayer, the singing of the Tibetan national anthem and a minute’s silence. Speeches were then delivered, songs performed and films shown to the congregation of over 300 people. Tibet Society also had a stall distributing information and selling merchandise.
In the opening speech for the evening, Tsering Passang, Chairman of the Tibetan Community in Britain, said that those Tibetans who fled into exle along with the Dalai Lama in 1959 had “escaped to seek human dignity”. Mr Passang noted that despite some material benefit for Tibetans in Tibet under Chinese rule over the past 57 years, there remained a complete lack of basic human rights and freedoms.
Chonpel Tsering, the Dalai Lama’s Representative to the UK and Northern Europe, then read extracts from the Sikyong’s 10 March statement. (The Sikyong is the equivalent of Prime Minister and is the head of the Tibetan government in exile.)
The Sikyong, Lobsang Sangay, expressed “solidarity with those who continue to suffer repression under Chinese rule”. He reiterated the Tibetan government in exile’s commitment to the Middle Way Approach which seeks genuine autonomy within China and expressed hope that “the leaders in Beijing will see reason… and step forward to engage in dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s envoys.”
After conveying gratitude to all those who have supported the Tibet cause, both for the freedom of those in Tibet and for the welfare of those in exile, the Sikyong declared, “May there be immediate resolution to the issue of Tibet. Above all, may the day for the union of Tibetans inside and outside Tibet emerge swiftly.”
Norman Baker, President of Tibet Society and former MP and government minister, was next to address the assembled Tibetans and Tibet supporters. Mr Baker spoke on the essential work that the Tibet Society undertakes, through meetings with leading politicians, meetings with the Foreign Office and through its work as Secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet. He emphasised that “an attack on freedom anywhere is an attack on freedom everywhere”.
Mr Baker quoted the Dalai Lama, “A mere palm of the hand cannot hide the sun.” Mr Baker added to the quote saying, “For the light of truth, the light of humanity, the light of freedom can never be extinguished by the darkness of lies, of inhumanity and of oppression.”
Following a performance of Phasa Zin, a patriotic Tibetan song, by Tibetan Community members, Tim Loughton MP and Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibetcontinued with the speeches. He said the Tibet cause is “as relevant, as just and as urgent today as it always has been”. He added, “The last 57 years has seen the systematic subjugation of the Tibetan people, the suppression of Tibet’s rich cultural and spiritual heritage and the ethnic cleansing od a proud nation and people.”
Mr Loughton concluded by calling on those gathered to “affirm ourselves to the cause of Tibet, the Tibetan people and the principles of liberty, peace and cultural and religious tolerance with which they are synonymous.”
Special guest Ma Jian, a Chinese dissident and author, delivered a message of unity saying that Chinese and Tibetans “share the same spirit”. He said that living in exile “despite being painful, is something to be cherished… as we can see clearly the place we have been banished from.”
Ma Jian said that during the Chinese President’s visit to London last October, he was “incredibly moved by those Tibetans who came out and raised their voices against the totalitarian state.” He added, “I was shocked by the hollow voices of support of the paid-for crowds of Chinese supporting Xi.”
In conclusion, Ma said, “But I still have a hope in my heart because I see in you all here the new generation, the real Tibet is still living very much in you.”
The speeches were concluded by Kate Saunders, Communications Director of International Campaign for Tibet, who highlighted the 2008 Uprising that spread across Tibet and quoted a number of Tibetan contemporary writers.
Ms Saunders said, “Now we are witness to a new and momentous struggle… by a new generation of Tibetans inside Tibet.” She added there is a “new sense of urgency for political change” amongst the new generation, who are “connected by a strong sense of solidarity, a pride in their cultural and religious identity.”
One of the writers Ms Saunders quoted was Shogdung, who was jailed for six months for publishing a book about the 2008 protests, which Shogdung described as “a re-awakening of Tibetan national consciousness and solidarity.”
In his banned book, which Ms Saunders said has been translated into English and is due to published in the UK later this year, Shogdung wrote, “That revolution starting from the 10 March anniversary in Lhasa was like a stone thrown into a pond, sending ripples out in all directions, with all kinds of manifestations from the monasteries to the towns, from… the highland pastures to the valley pathways, like stars twinkling in the sky or flowers blooming from the earth.”
View more photos from wreath-laying ceremony (via facebook)
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