Several hundred Minnesota Tibetans and supporters participated in the Tibetan Freedom Torch Relay starting in St. Paul at our state’s capitol at 10:00 a.m.
The Torch was launched in Olympia, Greece on March 10, 2008 despite China’s security presence. It has been traveling around the world since then. This Torch symbolizes the hopes and aspirations of the Tibetan people for freedom and justice and the commitment of the people around the world to helping achieve this dream. The Olympic torch should embody the ideals of peace and harmony for all, but this year, China’s government is trying to use the Olympic torch relay to cover up its brutal occupation of Tibet and abysmal human rights record. The Tibetan Freedom Torch relay gives voice to the true ideals of Tibetans and reminds the global public of the need for action to bring an end to China’s illegal occupation of Tibet. The Tibetan Freedom Torch will travel to more than 50 cities between March 10th and August 7th, when Tibetans plan to carry the torch to Tibet. The relay will finish on August 8th, the day the Olympics begin in Beijing.
The Tibetan community of Minnesota has organized the torch relay in solidarity with the Tibetans in and outside of Tibet, and as part of the International Tibetan Freedom Torch Relay. A moment of silence and prayers was offered for the peaceful Tibetan demonstrators who lost their lives and also for the Chinese and Burmese victims of the devastating natural disasters. Three ladies along the route carried the torch; they were Yiga, Kelsang Lhamo, and Tsering Dolma. The marchers carried banners, flags, photos, and signs as they moved along University Avenue towards the Tibetan Community Cultural Center located at 1096 Raymond Avenue in St. Paul. Well wishers along the way honked car horns and waved in support of the marchers as they moved quietly along. Local members of the Hmong community offered bottled water to the participates, this act of kindness was very much appreciated.
The marchers arrived shortly before 3:00 p.m. at the Tibetan Community Center. I had a chance to meet with both Thinly Woser the President of the THFM (Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota) and Ngodup Sangmo the TAFM Secretary. Mr. Woser told us the torch is called “PALBAR” and represents health, wealth and all good things, not only for Tibetans, but also for the Chinese and all people of the world.
A 3:45 p.m. the grand event took place with opening remarks made by Ngodup Sango and Thinly Woser. Edward Yiu offered his support on behalf of many Chinese here in the U.S.
Guest speaker Clara Gabriel, a constituent advocate for U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. Ms Gabriel read a prepared statement from Senator Klobuchar saying, “I am deeply concerned by the recent violence in Tibet, and feel that promotion of human rights standards must be a fundamental part of our nation’s foreign policy toward China and all other countries around the world.” Saying also that the Senator has recently joined with nearly 30 of my fellow Senators, Democrats and Republicans alike, in calling on President Hu Jintao to quickly and peacefully resolve the alarming situation in Tibet. This letter expressed, such a resolution is essential to regional stability and our fight for basic human rights. Working together not only at the local level but with human rights advocates around the globe. The Senator stated she is confident we can achieve this goal so that all may live healthy, prosperous, and secure lives.
The keynote speaker at the event was Congressman Keith Ellison. He said, “Today we come together to shine light on the continuing need for international pressure in support of better conditions in Tibet. In a world where tragedies compete for our attention, I want you to know that I share your commitment to encouraging peace and respect for human rights for Tibet and Tibetans everywhere.”
The Congressman was deeply disturbed by the reports and pictures of brutal violence against Tibetan citizens on the part of the Chinese Government, at the time of the 49th anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day.
He believes that, “the citizens of Minnesota and the United States must not look the other way as Chinese soldiers beat and gun down Tibetan citizens, or are silently complicit with the Sudanese government as they commit genocide on the citizens of Darfur.”
Following the violence, Congressman Ellison conveyed his concerns to the Chinese Embassy in Washington. He said, ”I was disappointed by the tone of their response, which exhibited disrespect towards His Holiness the Dalai Lama and asserted falsely that he and his supporters were seeking breakaway independence from China by violent means. That attempt to mischaracterize the peaceful efforts of His Holiness the Dalai Lama does not stick.”
He took a moment to read a passage from the State Department’s latest Human Rights Report, which provides a chilling summary of life in Tibet:
“The government’s human rights record in Tibetan areas of China remained poor, and the level of repression of religious freedom increased.
“Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and house arrest and surveillance of dissidents.
“The government restricted freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of movement.
“The government adopted new regulations and other measures to control the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, including measures that require government approval to name all reincarnated lamas.
“The preservation and development of the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage of Tibetan areas and the protection of the Tibetan people’s other fundamental human rights continued to be of concern.”
The Congressman went on to say, “In the face of natural disaster and human tragedy, I again call on the Chinese government to work towards resolution of its relationship with the people of Tibet. Acting in this Olympic year to implement self-governance for Tibet to which China pledged itself fifty years ago would be a gracious gesture worthy of the great nation that China has become.”
In closing, “I join you today in offering fervent prayers for the well-being of all people. May the sacrifices of those who preceded us serve as guidance in the struggle for peace today.” These remarks were very well received.
Following the speakers Cultural performances and freedom songs were led by Tibetan artistes and local students.
The Tibetan Freedom Torch of Minnesota is being jointly organized by the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, Tibetan Women‘s Association and Students for Free Tibet.