November 25, 2017: Canadian Senators have launched an inquiry into state of political prisoners of Tibet in Canadian Senate chamber on November 23, 2017. Five senators lead by Senator Dennis Glen Patterson have highlighted five political prisoners of Tibet who are suffering in Chinese prison for peaceful expression of views in asserting their national identity and defending their culture.
The other four senators who have raised strong voice in support of Senator Patterson were Senator Marilou McPhedran, Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, Senator Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) and Senator Linda Frum.
“I am concerned and disturbed to learn that a child (Penchen Lama) was abducted by the state and that his whereabouts and current condition remain unknown………I do hope that this inquiry will serve, as our government reaches out to engage with China, to emphasize that in doing so we must also reinforce and advocate for the basic human rights and freedoms that we cherish and protect in Canada.” Said Patterson in the Senate.
He further added that His Holiness the Dalai Lama only wants to restart a dialogue with the Chinese government toward making Tibet a truly autonomous province as provided for in the Chinese Constitution.
Following is the transcript of Senators’ speech in Canadian Senate.
Visitors in the Gallery
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I wish to draw your attention to the presence in the gallery of Mr. Ngodup Tsering, Mr. Tsering Tashi and Mr. Thubten Samdup. They are the guests of the Honourable Senator Patterson.
On behalf of all honourable senators, I welcome you to the Senate of Canada.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
State of Political Prisoners in Tibet
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Patterson, calling the attention of the Senate to the state of political prisoners in Tibet.
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to my inquiry on the state of political prisoners in Tibet.
As you know, it’s our privilege as senators to meet with delegations from time to time. Last June I met with a delegation of Tibetans in Canada from the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto and Students for a Free Tibet. They were escorted by my friend, former Senate colleague and champion of human rights in Tibet, Con Di Nino.
I was moved by the stories told by these young Tibetans of cultural and religious repression being suffered by Tibetans by under the Chinese majority in that province, how the Tibetan language has been removed from school classrooms since 2000 and how Tibetans cannot gain employment unless they speak, read and write Mandarin. They told me how difficult the process has become for obtaining visas and how that has reduced tourism, which had been a source of income and reinforcing cultural values for Tibetans. They said that Tibetan nomadic yak herding people have been removed from their ancestral lands and housed in concrete ghetto-style housing, and that this drastic change in living circumstances has led to suicide, alcoholism and prostitution.
I have seen examples of this with my own eyes in neighbouring Qinghai Province, where I participated in an exchange with Northern Canadians in 2008. We shared with Chinese authorities there that our experience in Canada of dispossessing Native people of their traditional lands and lifestyles and repressing Native languages has had dire intergenerational consequences for many.
These stories resonated with me, since I represent a region which is striving to preserve and enhance the first language of the vast majority of its citizens, Inuktitut. In a region where, even with the protections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a benevolent federal government, it is an ongoing struggle for Inuit to preserve their language and culture, and negative health and social indicators still greatly exceed the norms elsewhere in our country.
These young Tibetans told me that in their opinion, the Chinese Han majority are anxious to control and exploit Tibet’s rich natural resources, its water, gold, copper and zinc, and are fearful of the return of their revered spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, lest he leads them to a revolution.
But they told me that the Dalai Lama, who was recognized by Canada as an honorary citizen, is only wanting to restart a dialogue with the Chinese government toward making Tibet a truly autonomous province as provided for in the Chinese Constitution. This is known as the Middle-Way Approach, which seeks to find a peaceful solution to these issues within the confines of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. They emphasized that Tibetan culture and Buddhist religion is based on peace and compassion.
This position was reiterated by the president of Tibet’s government in exile, Dr.Lobsang Sangay, who visited Ottawa earlier this week. Dr. Sangay, who holds a doctorate in law from Harvard University, maintains that the most prudent course of action is to seek recognition as a genuinely autonomous region in China that has full control over important portfolios such as education, language and other tools of cultural preservation.
They encouraged me to initiate this inquiry to shine a light on the situation of Tibetans as repressed peoples in their homelands and suggested that a focus on the active suppression of basic rights and freedoms in Tibet can best be expressed by telling the stories of political prisoners: those who, in many cases, have dared to advocate for human rights and have paid a terrible price for doing so.
Today I wish to tell the story of one prisoner I consider a political prisoner.
In Tibetan culture, the Panchen Lama is a great spiritual adviser who is second only to the Dalai Lama. Traditionally, the Panchen Lama would hold control over the Tsang region, which is independent of the Ganden Podrang authority led by the Dalai Lama.
On May 15, 1995, the Dalai Lama announced that six-year-old Gendhun Choekyi Nyima had been recognized as the eleventh Panchen Lama. The Government of China rejected the Dalai Lama’s statement as “illegal and invalid,” and on May 17, 1995, authorities abducted the child and his family. Later, Chinese authorities installed Gyaincain Norbu as the Panchen Lama instead. Neither Gendhun Nyima nor his parents have been seen or heard from since.
In May of 1996, China acknowledged it was holding Gendhun Choekyi Nyima and his family at a secret location. China’s ambassador to the UN claimed that “(Gendhun) has been put under the protection of the government at the request of his parents.” It was confirmed again in September 1996, when delegates of the Chinese “Ethnic Affairs Commission” in Montreal responded to inquiries on the subject that Gendhun Nyima was “healthy and studying to become a monk” under the protection of Chinese authorities.
In February 1998, American clerics visiting Tibet were told that Gendhun Choekyi Nyima was in Beijing, but in March 1998 the vice governor of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Yang Chuantang, told Austrian delegates that he was actually living in Lhari, the place of his birth. In April 1998, a third location was put forward when a British journalist was told that the child was studying, possibly in Gansu Province.
In 2000, during a session of the EU-China bilateral human rights dialogue, European Union and British officials were shown two photographs of a young boy whom Chinese delegates said was the Panchen Lama. However, forensic analysis later confirmed that the photographs were not of Gendhun Choekyi Nyima.
In August 2001, Chinese authorities promised photographs to a Polish delegation visiting Tibet, but the delegation was later told that the boy was “far away” from Lhasa and so the pictures could not be obtained immediately. They were never produced.
In October 2001, an Australian delegation was told that the parents of Gendhun Choekyi Nyima were insisting that no foreign delegations be allowed to meet with him.
In a statement made on September 6, 2015, Chinese officials again acknowledged that the Panchen Lama, now 26 years old, was living under China’s control. “The reincarnated child Panchen Lama you mentioned is being educated, living a normal life, growing up healthily and does not wish to be disturbed,” said Norbu Dunzhub, a member of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s United Front Work Department.
UN special procedures have raised this case in numerous examples without result. Most recently, on September 27, 2013, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child inquired about the location of the Panchen Lama during China’s periodic review. China refused to respond to the question which pursued a 2005 query regarding the Panchen Lama’s education while in detention.
Honourable senators, I am concerned and disturbed to learn that a child was abducted by the state and that his whereabouts and current condition remain unknown.
In closing, honourable senators, I do hope that this inquiry will serve, as our government reaches out to engage with China, to emphasize that in doing so we must also reinforce and advocate for the basic human rights and freedoms that we cherish and protect in Canada.
I look forward to the participation of other honourable senators in this inquiry and the sharing of their experiences and viewpoints.
Hon. Marilou McPhedran: Honourable senators, today I rise to speak to the inquiry tabled in the Senate by my colleague Senator Dennis Patterson on June 20, 2017. I wish to thank Senator Patterson for his leadership on this issue.[Translation]
This human rights violation in Tibet is most significant. We need to continue to uncover the facts and urge governments to take meaningful action.[English]
On Tuesday morning, I met with some members of the Tibet delegation here with us today. Their president in exile, Lobsang Sangay, referred to as the Sikyong, has emphasized the importance of seeking a peaceful, non-violent resolution of the Tibet issue. Sikyong supported the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” approach which would “provide for genuine autonomy for Tibet within the framework of [the] Chinese constitution.” As China has established a dual system mechanism with Hong Kong and Macau, he noted that it made no sense to continue the resistance for a similar resolution for Tibet.
Every year since 1991, according to the 2016 Special Report of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, an average of 194 known Tibetans have been detained. To date, we are advised of 2,057 Tibetan political prisoners currently detained in known or unspecified centres and prisons across the Tibet region.
Colleagues, the situation in Tibet is complex due to skilled obfuscation. Chinese authorities refuse to share numbers of detainees and specific details with regard to their names and locations. Statistics are difficult to come by, but the situation does not seem to be getting better. Many prisoners have faced torture, beatings and degrading treatment during interrogations. They have faced trials that do not meet international standards and some have not had any trials at all. Prisoners have faced punishments while incarcerated, including long periods in isolation, and some are still imprisoned — years past their sentences. There is no presumption of innocence in Chinese law, and verdicts in these political cases often seem to be predetermined.
Although China’s National People’s Congress passed a criminal procedure law which included a ban on torture and other coercive means of securing confessions, there is little evidence of its implementation in relation to Tibet.
Contrary to Articles 4 and 5 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which call for the establishment of such criminal laws and their implementation internally, the Chinese government has failed to extend these protections to Tibetans.
The convention, ratified by China in 1988, also calls, in Articles 10, 11 and 14, for education and information for law enforcement against torture, with systemic reviews of interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices of those in custody; and, appropriate redress and rehabilitation for victims of torture.
Since the unrest in Tibet in 2008, Chinese authorities are reported to be relying on even harsher treatment of political prisoners detained across Tibet.
I would like to shed light on the case of Dr. Yeshe Choedron, a political prisoner arrested in March 2008 and sentenced on November 7 of that year by the Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court to 15 years of imprisonment. She was convicted of espionage for providing “intelligence and information harmful to the security and interests of state [to] the Dalai clique’s security department.”
Dr. Choedron was 65 when arrested — a Tibetan woman who had retired from her profession as a medical doctor. She is believed to be held at the prison in Drapchi. She was one of the thousands arrested, secretly tried and sentenced during the 2008 uprising. There is little new evidence about her case since the sentencing nine years ago.
Dr. Choedron is now 74, if she is alive.
Unconfirmed reports by authorities indicate that she is in poor health, at best. Other prisoners detained in 2008 have reported torture and ill-treatment while in prison. In 2014 Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died while in custody, and a medal of courage was created in his memory.
Colleagues, I speak of Yeshe Choedron and the Tibet political prisoners today because we need to wake up. The international community needs to do better, and we need to do better in facing these human rights violations in breach of international law — violations by China.
Individuals like Yeshe Choedron deserve to live their rights and have equal opportunities, as we do. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1, states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
This protection of rights and the ability to live rights is not solely for the elite of this world. Canada, at home and abroad, has committed to championing human rights.
I was at the UN peacekeeping ministerial meeting last week when our Prime Minister spoke about the importance of sustainable peace and justice for all individuals, especially in conflict, when he said that we need to be bold. Tibet is but one example where we can and should do better and be bold in protecting human rights.
I would like to thank, once again, Senator Patterson for his leadership on this inquiry, and to acknowledge that Dr. Yeshe Choedron, still a Chinese prisoner, has been awarded the Tenzin Delek Rinpoche Medal of Courage. I close with a prayer for her survival in conditions that have been known to kill. Thank you, meegwetch.[Translation]
Hon. Thanh Hai Ngo: Honourable senators, I am pleased to speak to the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Patterson calling the attention of the Senate to the state of political prisoners in Tibet. I also want to thank my honourable colleagues who also spoke out to make the Canadian public aware of the persistent fundamental human rights violations in that region.[English]
To understand the state of political prisoners in Tibet, we must first look at the draconian public surveillance rules that have led to the detention and deaths of thousands of innocent Tibetans.
To give you an idea of just how brutal the situation in Tibet really is, in 2016 and 2017, Freedom House ranked Tibet second after Syria and before Somalia, Eritrea and North Korea for the worst “. . . aggregate scores for political rights and civil liberties . . .”
The fact that the Tibetan people have fewer rights and liberties than a failed state and the world’s worst dictatorship should raise serious concerns about the treatment of 3 million Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese authorities. Since 1950 Tibet has been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party and has been divided into the Tibet Autonomous Region and 12 Tibetan autonomous prefectures.
Rights observers have documented wide-ranging violations of fundamental rights, including an alarming rate of detentions, prosecutions and convictions of Tibetans for the peaceful exercise of their freedoms of expression, assembly and religious belief and cultural identity.
The Chinese authorities tightly restrict all news media and independent expression in Tibet. Individuals who use the Internet, social media, or other means to disseminate dissenting views or share politically sensitive content face arrest and stiff penalties. This includes Tibetan cultural expression, which the authorities associate with separatism and is subject to especially harsh restrictions.
Those incarcerated in recent years have included scores of Tibetan writers, intellectuals and musicians. Among some prominent cases in 2016, blogger Drukar Gyal, also known as “Druklo,” was sentenced to three years in prison last February on charges of inciting separatism and endangering social stability.
In March 2015, a popular Tibetan writer and blogger using the pen name Shokjang was arrested. His whereabouts were unknown until February 2016 when he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for “inciting separatism.”
Two additional writers, Lu Konchok Gyatso and Tashi Wangchuk, remained in custody in 2016, one for planning to publish a book and the other for speaking to the New York Times about the loss of Tibetan language teaching. With no fair trial and no access to family, Tashi Wangchuk was tortured and has suffered extreme inhumane and degrading treatment in detention. He was initially detained for a lengthy period in a “tiger chair,” where he was subjected to interrogation and repeatedly beaten by police officers. Since January 2017, there has been no information about his well-being, no evidence of him committing a crime has been made public, and his lawyers have limited access to meeting with him.
Since 2012 the communist authorities have set up committees of government officials within monasteries to manage their daily operations and enforce party indoctrination campaigns. These re-education campaigns typically force participants to recognize the Chinese Communist Party’s claim that China liberated Tibet and to denounce the Dalai Lama.
Freedom of religion is harshly restricted in Tibet in large part because the authorities interpret reverence for the Dalai Lama and adherence to the region’s unique form of Buddhism as a threat to Chinese Communist Party rule. Possession of Dalai Lama-related materials can lead to official harassment, arrest and punishment, including restrictions on commercial activity and loss of welfare benefits. The Religious Affairs Bureaus, which control all religious activity, force monks and nuns to sign a declaration rejecting Tibetan independence, expressing loyalty to the government and denouncing the Dalai Lama.
Since President Xi took power, he has repeatedly called for the sinicization of all religions warning against “overseas infiltrations via religious means” and “ideological infringement by extremists.” Under his regime, a great number of Tibetan Buddhist monks have been arrested during the year for publicly protesting state repression, opposing land grabs or displaying images of the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama, an honorary Canadian Citizen, continues to advocate for the basic rights of the Tibetan people. A man who teaches patience, compassion and tolerance is the biggest threat to China’s wish to maintain control over Tibet. China takes this so seriously, they went so far as to ban Lady Gaga just for meeting with the Dalai Lama.
Honourable colleagues, one day the faith of the Dalai Lama’s successor will become a problem for the world, as mentioned by my colleague, Senator Patterson.[Translation]
Freedom of movement in Tibet is strictly limited, especially on key dates. The monks and nuns are particularly targeted. Tibetans outside the Tibet Autonomous Region who travel to Lhasa have to turn over their national identification cards to the authorities and inform them daily of their plans. According to Human Rights Watch, almost all residents of the Tibet Autonomous Region were prohibited from travelling abroad in 2016.
These human rights abuses are attributable in most part to the fact that the Chinese Communist Party controls the justice system, hence the lack of judicial independence. According to an incomplete database on China created by the Congressional Executive Commission on China, 650 Tibetan political prisoners were behind bars on August 1, 2016. The accused do not have access to any true legal representation. Trials are held in camera if state security is invoked. Chinese lawyers who offer to defend Tibetan suspects have been harassed or disbarred.
Security forces routinely resort to arbitrary detention, and the families of the detained are often kept in the dark as to the health of their loved ones and where they are being detained. What is more, Tibetan prisoners of conscience have reportedly died in detention in circumstances that would suggest torture. In February 2016, for example, a Tibetan man who was believed to have been tortured died while serving a 13-year prison sentence for refusing to fly a Chinese flag.
Chinese authorities have arrested and convicted many Tibetan writers, scholars and singers for “fomenting separatism.”
Last December, Peng Ming, a 58-year-old democracy activist, died in prison under suspicious circumstances. His family was not allowed to see the body, and authorities denied his adult children permission to enter the country to collect his ashes.
In June, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reported that Yeshi Lhakdron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun detained in Kardze County in the Tibetan region of Kham, which is now administered under Sichuan Province, had died of torture while in custody. That same month, a 40-year-old Kardze man who had been detained for allegedly possessing a gun also died in custody, reportedly after enduring severe torture.
On May 13, Lobsang Choedhar, a monk from Kirti monastery in the Tibetan region of Amdo, was reported to be in critical health after being tortured in prison. He was serving a 13-year sentence for calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and the release of the Panchen Lama. Unfortunately, Chinese authorities ignored calls to release him for medical treatment.[English]
Honourable senators, the authorities in Tibetan areas continue to detain Tibetans arbitrarily for indefinite periods. I’m not saying anything new here. Since the annexation of Tibet, Buddhist temples have been destroyed and thousands have been killed, and the situation is still grim.
So here we are looking at the Chinese government controlling border areas, combatting separatism and extracting natural resources — the cost of which is the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, linguistic heritage and the civil rights of the Tibetan population.
Honourable senators, Tibet is really under house arrest, and its people are suffering. According to the International Campaign for Tibet, a total of 150 Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet and China since February 27,2009 —26 of whom are no more than 18 years old. What is most disturbing is the silence about the ongoing abuses perpetrated by the Chinese authorities. Canada has a dynamic Tibetan community members of which began here as refugees and who are calling for freedom and justice.
In 2017, issues of human rights and specific cases of prisoners of conscience have never been more important to raise with China as Canada approves the acquisition of state-owned enterprises, embarks on free-trade talks and takes a seat on the China-led Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank.
Once again, I wish to thank all honourable senators who have participated in this discussion and I encourage all my honourable colleagues to look into the human rights situation and the state of political prisoners in Tibet who suffer every day at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.
Honourable senators, the Dalai Lama is famously quoted as saying, “It is not enough to be compassionate, we must act.”
I hope that we as parliamentarians will remember his wise words and the plight of the Tibetan people and call for the release of political prisoners at every opportunity when we deal with China.
Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the inquiry of Senator Patterson, which draws the Senate’s attention to the state of political prisoners in Tibet.
This is a statement that our departed colleague, the late Senator Tobias Enverga had intended to make in support of Senator Patterson’s inquiry. I’m honoured to participate today on behalf of Senator Enverga, who, like me, deeply valued human rights, the rule of law, fairness and justice and due process.
Colleagues, sadly, this is not a new issue, as it has been in the international spotlight for some time. For decades, there have been countless Tibetans taken as political prisoners by Chinese authorities within the People’s Republic of China. Often times, these individuals have been convicted of so-called “crimes” relating to peaceful political activities or the mere exercise of their fundamental human rights. Included in this group are a number of monks, nuns and individuals who inherently promote peace and harmony. These political prisoners must endure harsh and brutal conditions, which include torture, sleep and food deprivation, and long periods of isolation. It is a known fact that many have died as a result of this treatment. These atrocities and human rights abuses have gone on for far too long and they must end.
Honourable senators, since protests began most recently across the Tibetan plateau on March 10, 2008, more than 600 known individuals have been detained as political prisoners. Any peaceful expression of Tibetan identity in the current political climate of the People’s Republic of China can be characterized as “reactionary” and thus is viewed as criminal.
I would like to bring to the chamber’s attention one specific case, that of Mr. Lobsang Jamyang. Mr. Jamyang is a writer and a monk who was detained on April 17, 2015, in China’s Sichuan province at the age of 28. It is believed he is still held in the region currently. Upon his detention, he was held incommunicado for one year, which is a violation of Chinese law. In January 2017, Mr. Jamyang was indicted on charges of “leaking state secrets” and “engaging in separatist activities.” No evidence was provided to support these claims. In May 2016,Mr. Jamyang was sentenced to seven and a half years, with the trial taking place behind closed doors.
At the time of his detention, he was studying Buddhism at Kirti Monastery. He had also contributed articles to popular Tibetan language websites in Tibet. A man of peace and a supporter of Tibet, Mr. Jamyang’s current health situation is unknown, although it is reported that he was subjected to beatings and torture during the one year of detention prior to his trial and sentencing.
Honourable senators, Mr. Jamyang’s case is not unique. He is merely one example of a deeply concerning pattern of human rights abuses taken against Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China.
Yet, there are many groups and individuals who have done good work on this issue and who have raised attention and support for the many Tibetans who face this type of daily persecution. I would like to mention the International Campaign for Tibet, which has not only raised awareness on this issue over the years but has also helped to secure the release of many Tibetan political prisoners.
Honourable senators, I stand today in support of Senator Patterson and denounce the actions taken against the countless Tibetans, such as Mr. Lobsang Jamyang, who have been taken prisoner and subjected to inhumane conditions for simply exercising the basic human rights that we are so lucky to be afforded in Canada. Thank you for your attention to this very important inquiry.
Hon. Linda Frum: Honourable senators, the People’s Republic of China’s abuse of human rights towards the people of Tibet has continued unabated for far too long. Even within the context of China’s authoritarian regime, Tibet has suffered among the worst.
Since the conquest of the region by Mao in 1950, innocent Tibetans have faced imprisonment for crimes they did not commit, are prohibited from practising their religion and are unable to express their freedom of speech.
Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch said, “ultimately the message of the Chinese authorities’ terms for Tibetans is clear: Political nonconformity will be punished severely.”
I thank Senator Patterson for bringing this important matter to the Senate Chamber. I will be using my time today to share with you the plight of a prominent 30-year-old Tibetan writer and blogger named Druklo. Also known by his pen name, Shokjang, he is known for his critical and thought-provoking articles about the situation in Tibet, especially the resettlement of Tibetan nomads. Shokjang was detained by Chinese authorities on March 16, 2015, by national security police officers and was sentenced 11 months later to three years in prison. No details of the charges against him have ever been released publicly and his health situation is unknown.
According to sources, his family and friends can only visit him under very strict conditions. For example, if Shokjang’s visitors speak to him in Chinese, they can spend 30 minutes together. However, if they speak in Tibetan, that visit is limited to 5 minutes.
The fact that Shokjang is being jailed for exercising his freedom of speech is unacceptable.
I call on all senators to join me in calling on the Chinese government to release Shokjang and all Tibetan prisoners of conscience.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, if no other senators wish to speak, this matter is considered debated.