Tibetans protest during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s Australia visit

Canberra, Australia, March 23: China’s Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Canberra yesterday to begin his Australian tour. His arrival after midnight at the Hyatt Hotel was marked by slogans of protest from Australian Tibetans as well as the presence of Chinese Falun Gong practitioners, as he entered the hotel through the back entrance.

Today, Australian Tibetans from Canberra and surrounding regions gathered on the lawns of the Parliament House to protest his visit. The protest was attended by many former political prisoners and their families. Several federal politicians such as Senator Scott Ludlam, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson and Senator Nick McKim from the Australian Greens Party, MP Michael Danby, Senator Claire Moore and Senator Lisa Singh from the Australian Labour Party attended and addressed the crowd in solidarity and support of the Tibetans.

17506075_1463738857003853_19123118_nTo highlight the growing concerns of Chinese economic power and influence in Australian society, the Tibetan community symbolically threw back small Chinese ‘hong bao’ – traditional red envelopes used to offer cash gifts – at the protest. The act of throwing ‘red envelopes’ seeks to loudly declare Australians will not, and should not let Chinese financial influence degrade and undermine Australian values of individual freedom, equality, rule of law, and parliamentary democracy.

“China’s premier is here to talk trade so let’s talk about the fact that China’s communist party is exporting its oppression beyond its borders. We have Tibetans in our community who are unable to freely express themselves because they are afraid of the Chinese Government here in Australia” said Tsewang Thupten – ACT Tibetan Community Media Spokesperson.

Ms T. N. (name withheld for safety) is a former nun who was jailed in Tibet for distributing pamphlets calling for freedom in Tibet. She arrived in Australia more than a decade ago as a refugee.

“I am afraid to speak out in Australia, it’s dangerous for me to protest. My family in Tibet has been told that the Chinese Government know I’m here in Australia, and they told my family that they are watching me. I don’t want my family to suffer the way I did in prison,” she said. She attended the protest wearing a mask to protect her identity, along with other former political prisoners.

The Tibetan Community in Australia supports hundreds of former political prisoners who fear reprisals for speaking out against the Chinese Government. The Chinese government’s extensive spy network in Australia has been well documented by the Australian media. In spite of these risks, many attended today’s protests.

17495986_1463738843670521_1641789993_n“I am afraid for my family but I must protest, I have to speak out on behalf of those Tibetans in Tibet. I’m here to tell people that Li Keqiang leads a government that imprisons poets, school teachers and peaceful protesters” said Ms T.N.

The importance of speaking out was reaffirmed by news of another self-immolation in Tibet. On Saturday, 18th March, 2017, a 24-year-old farmer, Pema Gyaltsen, set himself on fire in Eastern Tibet. He is the 146th Tibetan since 2009 to self-immolate in protest against China’s continued occupation and oppression in Tibet. These acts provide an important indication of the level of repression and desperation in Tibet, and why Tibetans continue to urge for international action on Tibet.

The international community’s failure to address these concerns in bi-lateral or multilateral dialogues with China is due to a concerted effort by the Communist regime to ensure human rights is firmly off the agenda.

“If Australia wants to be a true friend to China, and more importantly the Chinese people, the Australian government must engage with China about human rights; we must talk about democracy, as the Foreign Minister recently did in Singapore. We now better understand that China’s Communist Party is working hard to undermine the integrity of our institutions and democracy. We’ve become smarter about the real intention of Chinese Government initiatives like the now widely discredited Confucius Institutes, and our free press has uncovered attempts to influence our politicians with bribes. We know the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t want democracy or human rights in China but we must now understand that it is working to weaken them around the world, including here in Australia” said Tsewang Thupten.

Li Keqiang will visit Sydney tomorrow where an even bigger protest by Australian Tibetans living in the region is expected.

By Tendol Dagpo for ACT Tibetan Community Inc.