Thursday, April 3, 2008

Olympic Torch Protests for Tibet

A young Tibetan man handing out protest fliers on San Fran’s streets in advance of the Olympic Torch run still bears the scars of the beating he received courtesy of Chinese police.

'Wills' fled over the mountains into Nepal six years ago, leaving behind his mother, sisters and brother. His father had already died.

‘My purpose in leaving Tibet was to help Tibet. I am simply saying, ‘Free Tibet,’ he said. ‘Here they can’t touch me. I carry the scars on my body from when I was beaten.’

Surprisingly his beating was in Nepal. 'The best time to escape is in winter,’ he said, of the Himalayan trek. ‘Once you are over a border and in another country, you think you are safe and relax.’ What he discovered, though, was that Chinese police cross the Nepalese border and organise groups to wait in warmer, sunnier climes to take those fleeing by surprise.

‘Justice…Freedom…Truth is our Only Weapon’ are the words emblazoned across the bright-yellow vests of him and his co-protester.

Not liking to ask their names, though they would probably have given them, I have honoured them as ‘Wills’ and ‘Harry.’ Harry is American but of Tibetan heritage.

And, it seems, neither are they completely free of the Chinese government even in San Francisco.

‘Yesterday we were up there’ – Wills indicated past the cable cars in Powell Street towards Union Square – ‘and a guy and a girl were taking pictures of us.’

He added that since March 14 he has been unable to get through to his mother on the telephone. After six years of regular calls, the number was suddenly ‘not working.’

As protest groups amass for the Olympic Torch run on Wednesday, they are part of the Peace Ride for Human Rights in Tibet and carriers of the Tibetan Freedom Torch. In six days they have cycled 517 miles and given out 12,000 fliers.

They are preparing for a rally and candlelight vigil organised by SF Team Tibet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Richard Gere and Tibetan leaders at the Civic Center plaza on the eve of the Olympic Torch ceremony.

I told Wills of the horrific story recounted by Times columnist, Alice Miles, of a Tibetan exile she had met in India. The lady had been caught in the hills carrying a picture of the Dalai Lama by a Chinese soldier.

She was imprisoned, raped many times and hung upside down. Her children disappeared and her husband was forced to marry a Chinese woman.

For Wills, this was commonplace. ‘There are 150,000 Tibetans in exile, all separated from their families and 90 per cent of whom have been raped and tortured,’ he said so calmly he might have been giving out weather temperatures.

Over 1.2 million Tibetans have died at the hands of China’s military rule, says one of their fliers.

How come America and Britain have not done anything about this? I asked Harry.

‘The economics of this country have a lot to do with China. The majority of the market is with China,’ he said, citing Target and Walmart as examples of corporate America. Also, he has just discovered that 80 per cent of America’s garlic comes from China. There is the need of trillions of dollars to pay for the Iraq war.

‘As an individual I don’t mind if they (USA) are spending money on poor countries,’ he said, including Mexico, India and Sri Lanka on his long list. But it is much better to do that than spend ‘on a Communist country that is so organized and oppresses its people.'

‘China is like a criminal mob, an organized family, so it is not good for anybody’, he continued, adding his concern of ties with nuclear-ambitious Iran.

However, he was disappointed with the response to the Olympic protests from Mayor Gavin Newsom.

‘As a city San Francisco is very liberal and open-minded but there is a problem with the mayor who has chosen for some time to ignore us,’ he said.

Now that the Torch route has been revealed, however, it is not only the mayor but China as well who are worried about the possible strength of protests. For in the protest spotlight are also Darfur, where China is giving weapons to the Sudanese government for use against its people, and Burma.

Harry thought there could be 10,000 protesters along the route on Wednesday. There were rumours that the San Francisco Police Department were going to hire private security firms and that China would send in crowds to show a pro-China stance, he said.

Protesters will be spending the night along the route to make sure of their places.

‘But we are a non-violent protest,’ he said of his organization.

China’s human rights abuses are continuing apace, even with the eyes of the world upon them. Wills said that it had been confirmed that 140 Tibetans had been killed in the last two weeks. But he was confident the actual numbers were higher than that.

‘The Olympics are a great and beautiful thing but they – China – have to face the truth. They can’t hide things any longer. They can’t bury things in the past,’ he said.

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