Monday, December 10, 2012

Tibetan hunger strike, Ma dodges a shoe and other sundries on human rights day

Ten Tibetans in Taiwan launched a hunger strike on Saturday to honor those who self-immolated to oppose Chinese occupation 

The tent stands a mere 100 meters from busloads of tourists — most of them Chinese — who are actively taking pictures of themselves amid dozens of fluttering pigeons. Right behind them stands the ornate gate leading to Liberty Square, and behind it, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Grim reading about Tibetans' final, desperate act
Inside the tent, the atmosphere is much more sober as a handful of Tibetans exiled in Taiwan near the completion of a 49-hour hunger strike launched on Saturday night to honor the 94 Tibetans who, since 2009, have committed self-immolation to oppose Chinese occupation of their land (a 95th Tibetan, a 16-year-old, died after setting herself on fire in Qinghai today). Outside the tent hang large banners with images of some of the individuals who self-immolated, along with their age, social position, and the circumstances under which they committed their unimaginable act. Some of the pictures are not for the faint-hearted, such as that showing a man fully ablaze and yet keeps walking on a city street as passers-by look on. 

Today is International Human Rights Day, and various groups in Taiwan are holding events and press conferences to argue their position. The Democratic Progressive Party, as expected, held an “international” press conference to unveil the results of a poll showing dissatisfaction with President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) record on human rights. Almost simultaneously, Ma was addressing a rather angry crowd at another press conference in the morning, droning on about his commitment to human rights (he, along with former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao [溫家寶] and former US president George W. Bush, now have something in common, as all three have had a shoe thrown at them in anger). Meanwhile, in front of the Presidential Office, a group of 150 to 200 elderly Taiwanese gathered to protest against the government and Chinese encroachment on Taiwan, as a few dozen policemen look on, evidently bored. Behind them on a stage stood what presumably serves as a replica of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) cell. His son, Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), was among the speakers, his strident voice echoing all the way to the Presidential Office. Earlier, a dozen protesters unfurled small banners in front of the Control Yuan, while a young policeman looked on. As I walked by the Presidential Office, a guard told me it was forbidden to aim my camera at the main entrance of the building; as I came upon a side exit, a police van zipped by, carrying a handful of protesters with yellow lanyards tied round their foreheads.

One of the participants in the 49-hour hunger strike
But the main reason for my visit were the Tibetans. As the buffeting wind quieted down momentarily, I talked with one of the organizers, a soft-spoken man who explained why they were there. I asked him if many Chinese tourists had come over to the tent, as we were right at the heart of a favorite spot with Chinese tourists. A handful of people milled around as we chatted, some of them Chinese. Yes, he told me, a few did come over to look at the pictures of the Dalai Lama, or the 94 individuals who committed the ultimate sacrifice. They’re curious. We can’t blame them for not knowing what’s going on in Tibet, he continued. A few would reluctantly take pamphlets, he said, only to be berated by others once they rejoined their group, something I have observed before with Chinese tourists interacting with Falun Gong members distributing information about repression of their group by the Chinese government. I do wonder, however, whether this ignorance stems from the fact that Chinese control of information within China is really that successful, or if this might not be the result of self-censorship, from the fear of getting into trouble if one looks too closely into the subject. 

The hunger strike ends at 7 tonight, but Tibetans’ fight for their people’s freedom continues.

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