Tibetan exiles kicked off worldwide rallies Monday outside of the White House with two minutes of silence and cries of “Free Tibet!” 50 years after an uprising forced the Dalai Lama into exile.
As China poured troops into Tibet for the sensitive anniversary, a US lawmaker introduced a non-binding resolution before Congress that would urge China to end its “repression” of the Himalayan region.
Similar rallies were expected around the globe including in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala where the Dalai Lama — now 74 and boasting a passionate global following — lives in exile.
“We are here to tell the world that 50 years of occupation, 50 years of persecution, 50 years of genocide is too long,” said Tsering Palden, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress activist group’s New York chapter.
“This struggle for Tibetan freedom will gain momentum until Tibet is free,” he said to chants of “Free Tibet!”
The protesters marched to the Chinese embassy joined by one of China’s most famous dissidents, Wei Jingsheng, who has questioned historical claims to Tibet put forward by his country’s leaders.
“The Tibetans have been deprived of their right to protest but we can see that they are very strong,” Wei told AFP.
The Dalai Lama sneaked out of Lhasa on horseback on March 17, 1959 after the Chinese launched a crackdown. Tibet’s government-in-exile says that more than 87,000 people died between March and October of 1959 alone.
Tibet’s exiled government says at least 200 more people died when Chinese security forces clamped down following last year’s protests that marked the 49th anniversary.
The International Campaign for Tibet issued a report Monday listing names and details of 600 Tibetans it said were still unaccounted for — and estimated the real figure was more like 1,200.
“The Chinese government has engaged in a comprehensive cover-up of the torture, disappearances and killings,” the rights group said in a report.
The protesters outside the White House included Ngawang Sandrol, who was a young nun when she was arrested in 1992 for chanting “Long live the Dalai Lama.”
She recounted her time in prison, saying that guards beat her and came to her with “a strange object that looks like a telephone.
“They asked me, ‘Do you want to call your home?’ And I said my home doesn’t have a telephone,” she told the rally in a hushed voice.
“Then he put the strange object into my shirt and turned it on. My entire body shook in a way I couldn’t control. That was my first time with electric shock and I was 13 years old.”
Under international pressure, China in 2002 freed Ngawang and later allowed her to move to the United States.
“I know from my own experience that it is helpful when free people in free nations put pressure on the Chinese government,” she said.
The US Congress was to vote Tuesday on a resolution that would call on China to “cease its repression of the Tibetan people, and to lift immediately the harsh policies imposed on Tibetans.”
The bill, authored by Democratic Representative Rush Holt, also urged China to respond to initiatives of the Dalai Lama to find a lasting solution on Tibet.
China has initiated dialogue with the Dalai Lama but brands him a separatist. The 74-year-old monk, who preaches non-violence, says he is only seeking greater rights for Tibet within China.
The 50th anniversary coincides with a flare-up between the United States and China, with Washington accusing Beijing’s vessels of moving dangerously close to a US Navy ship in the South China Sea.
The new administration of President Barack Obama has tried to pursue close relations with China in its first days of office.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Beijing that concerns about Tibet and other human rights issues would take a back seat to working together in areas such as fighting the global economic crisis — a position the Tibetan demonstrators demanded she renounce.