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Chinese government has moved some 300,000 Tibetan farmers and herders from 57,800 families into permanent brick houses in Tibet this year, under a government-led program, Chinese state-controlled news agency said Saturday, a controversial practice rights groups say has been marked by gross abuses.

“Another 312,000 farmers and herders from 57,800 families moved from shanty homes into new solid brick houses in Tibet this year under a government-subsidized housing project aimed at improving living conditions,” China’s Xinhua news agency reported Saturday.

“I only spent 18,000 yuan (2,647 U.S. dollars) on the construction of my new house, and the rest, totaling more than 40,000 yuan, were all granted by the government,” the report cited Drolkar, a resident of the Yamda Village near Tibetan capital Lhasa as saying.

The report said, like Drolkar, all 208 families in the village moved into new brick houses this year.

To date, 860,000 farmers and herders from 170,000 families have moved into the new houses, the government statistics show, the report said.

The report said the five-year housing project was started in 2006 with a plan to build “solid homes for 220,000 families”

Once finished, it would mean housing for 80 percent of the region’s farmers and herders by the end of 2010, the report said of the controversial resettlement program that recalls the socialist engineering of an earlier era.

China calls the project the “comfortable housing program,” and its stated aim is to present a more modern face for Tibet, which China has controlled since 1950 after sending troops to occupy the region.

It claims that the new housing on main roads, sometimes only a mile from previous homes, will enable small farmers and herders to have access to schools and jobs, as well as for the sake of ecological conservation and for the health of the farmers and herders.

Saying Tibet has been experiencing double-digit economic growth for the last 16 years; the Xinhua report quoted a communist official as saying: “Farmers and herds people re the beneficiaries of the economic development” under China.

Independent reports however, indicate otherwise.

China’s broader aim seems to be remaking Tibet – a region with its own culture, language and religious traditions – in order to have firmer political control over its population.

Forceful resettlement of nomadic Tibetans in Tibet and in adjacent ethnic Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces actually began way back in 2000 and have taken place more intensively since 2003.

Observers say the massive mass relocation is linked to Beijing’s effort, launched in 1999, to develop China’s poor, restive west and bind it to the bustling east. Since then, human rights groups say, China has also been forcing nomadic Tibetan herders to settle in towns to clear land for development, while leaving many unable to earn living.

To prepare for an influx of millions of tourists in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the resettlement drive was more vigorously implemented across the Tibetan plateau.

Ahead of the Beijing Olympics, Chinese state media reported of increasing relocation of nomadic herdsmen in Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) into fixed residences, but said they were done so to help protect the environment and boost their living standards.

Between 2006 and 2007 alone, Chinese government relocated some 250,000 Tibetan farmers and herders, nearly one-tenth of the population, to resettle to new “socialist villages” from scattered rural hamlets. Reports show they were often ordered to build new housing largely at their own expense and without their consent.

In doing so, these Tibetan nomads have been forced to abandon their traditional lifestyles with many driven to frustration and despair, unable to cope up with the pressures of earning their livelihood through means alien to their traditions and upbringing.

Also resettlement often involve the slaughter of animals belonging to the mostly nomadic herders, relocation to poorly built accommodation and inability to find work due to lack of skills, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said its June 2007 report.

Others are forcibly evicted to make room for public works projects, like dams and roads, the group said in the report.

China says its presence in Tibet has resulted in modernization of the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan country.

Critics rubbish the claim and say modernisation in Tibet has been crushingly imposed by the Chinese authorities along with draconian measures that restrict freedom of expression, freedom to follow a religion of choice and curtailment of opportunity.

While pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into road-building and development projects in Tibet, China is maintaining a large military presence and keeping close tabs on the citizenry through a vast security apparatus of cameras and informants on urban streets and in the monasteries to contain its tight grip on the restive Himalayan region and to quell any impending demonstrations, like the one that broke out in March, against its rule.

Xinhua’s latest report on relocation of Tibetans appears to be part of a major propaganda drive on Tibet launched by China last month to highlight what it calls the “social and economic development of Tibet over the last 30 years.”

Chinese media report last month said starting November 5th China’s top nine state-run media, including the official Xinhua news agency and People’s Daily Online, will start “a series report on the last 30 years of Tibet after the reform and opening-up policy in China.”

The massive state-sponsored drive was described as a move to “help international readers to better understand Tibet”. The report said the purposeful coverage activity on Tibet would be jointly sponsored by the Publicity Department of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and the Publicity Department of the Party Committee of TAR, with the network sponsorship of China Tibet Information Centre.

The release last week of a human rights manifesto signed by hundreds of mainland scholars, lawyers and ex-officials has prompted a stern response from Chinese authorities who have jailed one signer and contacted dozens.

Charter 08, which takes its title and inspiration from the “Charter 77” document that demanded rights for Czechoslovakia in 1977, called for an extensive list of rights in China, including free speech, freedom to form political parties, an independent legal system and direct elections. The 4,000-word document was released during a time of several sensitive anniversaries, including 100 years after the promulgation of China’s first constitution, 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 30 years after Beijing’s “Democracy Wall” movement. The charter was first signed by 303 intellectuals living in China, a number that has since grown to more than 3,000.

On December 8, the day before Charter 08 was posted on a U.S.-based Chinese web site, Beijing police arrested Liu Xiaobo, a dissident and one of the document’s authors and signers. His lawyer, Mo Shaoping, says Liu is still being held incommunicado over a week later, and police have not revealed his whereabouts. Liu’s supporters fear he could be charged with the offense of “inciting subversion of state power.” Beijing-based activist Hu Jia was convicted of the same in April and sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week that Washington was “deeply concerned by reports that Chinese citizens have been detained, interrogated and harassed” since the document’s publishing, and was “particularly concerned about the well being of Liu Xiaobo.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told journalists on Dec. 16 that the U.S. position was another example of an unwelcome “interference of other nations in China’s internal affairs.”

At least 39 signatories in Beijing, Shanghai and eight provinces have been questioned, trailed or had their movements restricted by police, says the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an activist group. “This is a big thing, if only measuring by the reaction of the authorities,” says Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for the group Human Rights Watch. “One thing the [Communist] Party is very worried about is to have the loyalty of the intellectuals and the academics.”

The document has reignited a debate that has recently bubbled through the commentary pages of Chinese newspapers over the nature of “universal values.” Opinion writers have argued whether pluralism is a western creation with limited application to China, or a political ideal for all nations. Columnist Sima Nan wrote on his blog that the charter was a dangerous attempt to promote a Chinese “color revolution,” referring to pro-democracy movements in Ukraine and Georgia.

Bao Tong, a former assistant to purged Communist Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang and one of the charter’s signers, acknowledged that it backed western values, but said that China had relied on similar ideas for reform in the past. “If studying the West is illegal, then we should arrest the people talking about the market economy, because that comes from the West,” he says. “We should arrest the Communist Party, because political parties come from the West.”

Bao, who is now retired and lives under close state scrutiny, says the charter had been compiled over several months with the input of several people who offered suggestions and revisions. It was still being revised when the arrest of Liu prompted its early release. Bao accused the authorities of arresting Liu to intimidate others who might encourage political reform. “If signing the charter is illegal, then all us 300 plus have broken the law,” he says. “It’s nonsense.”

The timing of the charter’s release is sensitive not just because of the significant anniversaries this year, but because the global economic slowdown has increased the potential for political unrest in China. Thousands of factories in the south have closed, and demonstrations by workers over unpaid wages have become a frequent scene in the regions of the country that have been driving China’s double-digit growth. China’s exports dropped last month for the first time in seven years, and as many as 9 million migrant workers are estimated to be returning home due to the slowdown. The World Bank and others say growth next year could drop to below 8%, a number that the government needs to maintain to prevent a destabilizing level of unemployment. Economists warn that even if China makes its 2009 targets, the first half of the year could see much slower growth than the second. And while this year’s sensitive anniversaries will be past, next June will mark another, the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

The Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission (MTAC) promised to help Tibetan refugees yesterday, saying those who entered the country illegally may be granted legal resident status.

More than 100 Tibetans have been staging a sit-in at Liberty Square in Taipei since Tuesday, demanding that the government grant them legal resident status or at least a work permit.

They were forcibly removed from the demonstration site and dropped off in the outskirts of the city, including Guandu (關渡), Nangang (南港) and in the mountains in Neihu (內湖) at around 3am yesterday.

While a majority of the group — who speak little Mandarin — struggled to find their way back, 10 members who have been living in Taiwan for decades and are naturalized Taiwanese turned to the commission to plead for help for their Tibetan comrades.

“There are hundreds of Tibetans out there who entered Taiwan on forged [Indian and Nepalese] passports — they don’t have stable jobs because they cannot legally work here,” Taiwan Tibetan Welfare Association chairman Jangka (蔣卡) told reporters.

“They live in extreme poverty and often wake up in the morning not knowing where their lunch and dinner will come from. They cannot return to India, they have nowhere to go now,” he said.

“Please help them. Give them at least work permits so they can live,” he said.

A Tibetan who has no legal resident status in Taiwan told the Taipei Times that he makes about NT$10,000 (US$299) a month doing part-time jobs and lives with 13 other Tibetans in an 85m² apartment with one living room and two bedrooms.

Commission Secretary-General Chien Shih-yin (錢世英), who received the Tibetan representatives, said that help from the commission was on the way.

“We understand that it’s difficult to find jobs without legal status, but it’s not an issue that can be resolved by the MTAC alone,” Chien told the Tibetans.

“That’s why we’re in the process of coordinating efforts with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Immigration Agency and the Ministry of the Interior to revise the Immigration Act [出入國及移民法]” Chien said. “We’re doing something — but please understand that this cannot be done within one day.”

Chien’s words failed to pacify the Tibetans.

“You always want us to wait, wait, wait — how long do we have to wait? Ten years?” one of them shouted.

Chien then threatened to discontinue the talk if the Tibetan representatives continued shouting.

Taiwan Friends of Tibet vice chairman Yang Chang-chen (楊長鎮) and Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇), who accompanied the Tibetan, said the government should treat Tibetans without legal status in Taiwan in the same way it treated refugees from Thailand and Myanmar earlier this year.

Around 400 stateless Thai and Myanmar refugees who entered the country illegally were granted temporary residency so that they could work before the Immigration Act is amended.

Chien agreed and promised the commission would try to forward the proposal during Cabinet meetings.

The United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon called on China to continue its dialogue with the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, AFP reported.

“I hope the Chinese authorities will continue to resolve this issue through dialogue,” Ban told journalists yesterday.

China said last month that talks with Dharamsala had failed to produce any result and blamed the Tibetan side for it. It said the demands for autonomy were disguised call for independence saying it would not compromise on the status of the Himalayan region.

“Our contacts and talks failed to make progress and they (the Dalai Lama’s representatives) should assume full responsibility for it,” said Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the Community Party’s United Front Department.

The use of torture in the restless Chinese region of Tibet is widespread and routine and officials regularly ignore legal safeguards supposed to be in place to prevent it, a new report said on Wednesday.

Courier Mail)
This photo, taken in the second week of November, shows Chinese soldiers patrolling the area around the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa. Recent reports indicate China has intensified its military presence in Tibet amid fears of recurring protests in the restive Himalayan region. (Phayul/Photo: Courier Mail)

Even when detainees are released, they may die of their injuries, be scarred for life mentally or physically and not be able to afford medical treatment or be denied it completely, the Free Tibet group said.

“Despite claims by the Chinese government that there are ‘extremely few cases of torture’, the evidence tells a different story,” Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said. “There is no doubt that the Chinese government is permitting the use of torture as a weapon to suppress the Tibetan people.”

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment and calls to the spokesman’s office of the Chinese-run Tibetan government in Lhasa went unanswered.

Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950 and the region’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising against Beijing’s rule.

Mountainous and remote Tibet was rocked by anti-Chinese protests earlier this year, which China blamed on the Dalai Lama, whom it brands a separatist. He has repeatedly denied the claims.

Free Tibet said it had profiled numerous cases of torture carried out against people detained following the demonstrations, which spilled over into other ethnically Tibetan parts of China such as Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces.

It said that one monk at the Labrang monastery in Gansu, Jigme Gyatso, had to be hospitalised for almost a month after his injuries received in detention.

“They would hang me up for several hours with my hands tied to a rope … hanging from the ceiling and my feet above the ground. Then they would beat me on my face, chest, and back, with the full force of their fists,” he said in the report.

“Finally, on one occasion, I lost consciousness and was taken to hospital. After I regained consciousness at the hospital, I was once again taken back to prison where they continued the practice of hanging me from the ceiling and beating me.”

China has vowed to stamp out torture in its judicial system, described as widespread by some critics, in the face of international and domestic pressure.

Last month, the U.N. Committee Against Torture, in a rare public review of China’s record, expressed dissatisfaction with a “very serious information gap” about abuses in the country where criminal justice information is often considered a state secret. Free Tibet, in the report issued to coincide with International Human Rights Day, said Chinese laws aimed at protecting detainees were regularly ignored in Tibet.

“The international community can no longer hide behind sound bites condemning China’s human rights track record in Tibet and must now take specific actions to reverse the worsening crisis in Tibet,” Brigden added.

China and envoys of the Dalai Lama have been meeting on and off for the past few years, but with little to show for their talks.

Beijing has rejected the Dalai Lama’s calls for greater autonomy as being part of a plot for covert independence.

On Wednesday, the semi-official China News Service quoted Si Ta, a deputy head of the United Front Work Department which handles relations with non-Communists and ethnic and religious minorities, as repeating that the door to talks was always open.

“The Party still has expectations of the Dalai Lama and plenty of patience, but ‘Tibet independence’, ‘half independence’ or ‘covert independence’ are unacceptable,” it paraphrased him as saying in Washington.

Three Taiwan groups, outraged by President Ma Ying-jeou’s comment last week that it was not a good time for the Dalai Lama to visit, plan to invite the exiled Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Taiwan for religious purposes, reports said Tuesday.

Kaohsiung County Magistrate Ynag Chiu-hsing on Monday reportedly joined Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in welcoming the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan.

“The majority of Taiwanese support (the) Dalai (Lama)’s visit. We are studying the possibility of inviting world religious leaders, including (the) Dalai (Lama), to attend an inter-faith religious exchange activity which may be called ‘religious United Nations,” Chiu-hsing reportedly said at a meeting of the county government.

On Tuesday DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ying-wen also expressed her welcome to the Dalai Lama.

“The Dalai Lama is a courageous and respectful leader as well as a symbol of hope, freedom and human rights in Tibet. He has fought for the freedom of Tibet and raised world awareness and concerns about the difficulties and challenges facing Tibet today. He is a world-respected religious and political leader,” Tsai said in a statement.

“If the Dalai Lama thinks my invitation would be appropriate, it would be the pleasure of both myself and the DPP to invite him for a visit,” the statement said.

The DPP and the Kaohsiung county and Kaohsiung city governments’ invitations come after Ma said last week that it was not appropriate for Dalai to visit Taiwan at the present moment, apparently for fear that the spiritual leader’s visit would hurt the fast-improving Taipei-Beijing ties.

“Certainly the Dalai Lama visited Taiwan twice as a religious leader. We generally welcome religious leaders from all over the world to visit Taiwan, but I think at the current moment, the timing isn’t appropriate for that,” Ma said last week, when asked at a meeting with foreign correspondents in Taipei about the Tibetan leader’s apparent wish to visit the island for a third time.

The remark by the Beijing-friendly President Ma, who in the past welcomed the Dalai Lama to Taiwan, came as a shock to many Taiwanese people, including Buddhist and political groups.

The Dalai Lama made a historic first trip to Taiwan in March 1997 and visited the island again in 2001, triggering strong reaction from China.

Irked by Ma’s remark, Legislative Caucus of the pro-independence DPP, who forged closer ties with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-exile during their eight-year rule, which ended in May, said they would file a non-binding motion inviting the Tibetan leader. DPP also said Ma’s comments would only create misunderstandings about Taiwan overseas, as well as damage the island’s will to seek democracy and freedom.

“Apparently the decision was another indication of Ma bowing to Beijing’s pressure,” DPP spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang said in a statement last week.

“This again proves that he does not think about Taiwan’s sovereignty. We are suspicious that he is unable adequately to safeguard both Taiwan’s democracy and its sovereignty,” he said.

“I urge the Dalai Lama to drop the idea of visiting Taiwan, because Ma is a ‘puppet emperor’ for Beijing. As long as he is in office, the Dalai Lama cannot possibly be allowed to come here,” DPP parliamentarian Chiu Yi-ying said.

“President Ma rather has the special envoy of a country pointing 1,300 missiles at Taiwan come here than a Nobel Peace Prize winner,” said DPP lawmaker Huang Wei-cher, in a reference to the Nov. 3-7 visit to Taiwan by China’s top cross-straits negotiator Chen Yunlin.

DPP lawmakers contrasted Ma’s recent statements with his words before he took office last May, when he threatened a Taiwanese boycott of the Beijing Olympics over the repression of protests in Tibet.

Even parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pyng – a senior member of the governing Kuomintang – suggested the president should think again on the issue. If the main emphasis of the Dalai Lama’s visit is on religion, there is no problem, the Kuomintang politician said.

The Presidential Office later retracted Ma’s comments.

“A visit by the Dalai Lama could still be arranged at a proper time in the future,” presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi said.

Yu-chi said the government has always been concerned about the situation in Tibet and added that Taiwan never received any opinions about the matter from China.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed growing frustration with the military government in Burma, calling once again on its leadership to release all political prisoners and start a genuine dialogue with the opposition. The secretary-general convened a meeting late Friday with representatives from numerous countries that make up his friends on Myanmar group. Myanmar is the other name by which Burma is known.

He said since the group last met in September, there is a growing frustration among himself and members that their efforts have yet to yield results. “The government of Myanmar has officially declared that cooperation with the United Nations is a cornerstone of their foreign policy. We welcome it and we look forward to continue and expect concrete action by them to implement their commitment.”

The group’s meeting comes days after 112 former presidents and prime ministers from around the world sent a letter to the U.N. chief urging him to travel to Burma to secure the release of all political prisoners before the end of this year.

Human rights groups say there are more than two thousand prisoners of conscience in Burmese jails.

Mr. Ban told reporters following the closed-door session, that while he is ready to return to Burma to continue talks with the leadership on humanitarian and political issues, the timing would have to be right. “At this time it is not the right atmosphere for me to undertake my own visit there. But I am committed and ready to visit any time whenever I can have reasonable expectations of my visit to be productive and meaningful.”

Mr. Ban visited Burma and met with top leaders after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country in May. His special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, has made four visits to that country in the last year. His last trip was widely criticized for not achieving any gains.

The secretary-general called on all countries that have influence with the government in Burma to use it to urge the government to honor its commitments.

The exiled Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama Monday said conditions in Tibet had “not improved at all” since the Olympics Games in Beijing, according to a media report.

The exiled Tibetan leader, currently in Poland on the last leg of his Europe tour, said “the Chinese government carried (out) immense sort of suppression” since demonstrations earlier this year against Beijing’s rule in Tibet, AP reported.

The Dalai Lama said in Tibet “some arrests still continue.”

The demonstrations against Chinese rule in March spread across the whole Tibetan region. China launched a massive crackdown in which Tibetan exile groups say more than 200 Tibetans died and more than 1,000 people have been detained.

China last month refused to answer questions from a United Nations human rights panel about the alleged torture and disappearance of dissidents, or provide official figures on the mistreatment of detainees in its prisons.

The UN Committee Against Torture, in its concluding observations of China’s report on its adherence to the UN Convention against Torture, expressed in its section on Tibet deep concern about allegations of “longstanding reports of torture, beatings, shackling and other abusive treatment, in particular of Tibetan monks and nuns, at the hands of public officials, public security and state security, as well as paramilitary and even unofficial personnel at the instigation or with the acquiescence or consent of public officials.”

The Committee also asked China to provide, within one year, a response to reports of widespread excessive use of force and other abuses related to the spring demonstrations in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and neighbouring Tibetan prefectures and counties.

China, however, rebuffed the allegations and called the UN torture report an “untrue and unprofessional outcome,” saying it had prejudiced and politicized its members.

The Dalai Lama was speaking Monday in the Polish city of Krakow, where he received the Honoris Causa doctorate from Jagiellonian University.

According to a Polish online news site, Professor Beata Szymanska-Aleksandrowicz of the university’s Institute of Philosophy, nominated the Dalai Lama for the honour.

The University’s Senate agreed to the honourary doctorate in October 2007, reported, adding that the awarding of the honourary degree is based on “the Dalai Lama’s high ethical standards in social and public life as observed in his inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue and non-violent fight for freedom and rights for Tibetans”.

Szymanska-Aleksandrowicz, in her speech upon bestowing the degree, reportedly stated that the “honourary doctorate is not only an expression of recognition for one man, whose whole life has been about living truth and ideals, but for all those who remain anonymous but have acted in the name of higher ethical standards and work for the moral propagation of good and truth.”

The Dalai Lama has, according to the professor, joined a long tradition of the University of bestowing honours upon known figures such as John Paul II and Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

Upon acceptance of the honour, the Dalai Lama reportedly told his audience that Poles have a special place in his heart – from the moment he heard about Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement, he has been interested in Poland.

“Poles survived many difficult states in their history, but the Polish nation has kept its heart adamant,” His Holiness was quoted as saying by the online news site.

The Dalai Lama’s ongoing Europe tour and his Saturday meeting with the President Sarkozy of France have left China fuming. In protest Beijing canceled a long-planned China-EU summit and has told France to face serious consequences in diplomatic and economic ties between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama urged the world to remain firm when dealing with China. He said, in order to protect the long-term interests of the Chinese people, world must not hesitate to raise human right issues with Beijing Government.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy defied China on Saturday by meeting the Dalai Lama and said Europe shared the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader’s concerns over the situation in his homeland.

China called the meeting an “opportunistic, rash and short-sighted approach to handling the Tibet issue,” despite Sarkozy saying he regarded Tibet as part of China and that there was no need to “dramatize” his encounter.

“The meeting went very well … The Chinese authorities knew perfectly well this meeting would take place before the end of the year,” Sarkozy told reporters after his talks, which lasted about 30 minutes.

China called off a summit with the European Union last Monday in protest against Sarkozy’s plan to meet the Dalai Lama, branded by Beijing as a “splittist” for advocating self-determination for his mountain homeland.

On Saturday, China condemned the meeting. “This development is indeed an unwise move which not only hurts the feelings of the Chinese people, but also undermines Sino-French ties,” its official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.

“The French side … took an opportunistic, rash and short-sighted approach to handling the Tibet issue.”

Sarkozy said the Dalai Lama, who welcomed him by draping a ‘kata’ or traditional Tibetan white scarf on his shoulder, had said at the meeting that he does not seek independence for Tibet. “I told him how much importance I attach to the pursuit of dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities.”

Asked about the situation in Tibet, Sarkozy said: “The Dalai Lama shared with me his worries, worries which are shared in Europe. We have had a wide discussion of this question.” The Dalai Lama and other supporters of Tibetan self-rule say China is strangling the mountain region’s cultural and religious traditions and subordinating Tibetans to an influx of Han Chinese migrants and investment, charges Beijing rejects.


The two met in the Polish port of Gdansk where they joined 25th anniversary celebrations of Polish pro-democracy leader Lech Walesa’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Playing down any possible negative impact on Sino-French ties, Sarkozy said: “There is no need to dramatize things.”

Beijing’s unusually vocal criticism of Sarkozy’s plan to meet the Dalai Lama is linked to the fact that Paris holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, diplomats say.

In Paris, an official said there had been no sign yet of any Chinese boycott of French products. The EU is China’s biggest trade partner and supermarket chain Carrefour employs tens of thousands of people in China and is the biggest purchaser of Chinese goods in France.

French companies were subjected to Chinese boycotts and demonstrations earlier this year after the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay was disrupted by anti-China protesters.

Earlier on Saturday, the Dalai Lama called for dialogue and compassion to solve the world’s problems.

“Warfare failed to solve our problems in the last century, so this century should be a century of dialogue,” he told delegates, including Walesa, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

The Dalai Lama, who met Tusk privately on Saturday, praised Polish courage in resisting past oppression.

The 73-year-old monk is a popular figure in Poland, where some see in his struggle with China’s communist authorities echoes of their own battles under Walesa against Soviet-backed communist rule that ended in 1989.

The Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959 after a failed insurrection against Chinese rule in Tibet, occupied by People’s Liberation Army troops from 1950.

The international community should protest the imprisonment and secret sentencing of Paljor Norbu, an 81-year-old Tibetan traditional printer, and seek his immediate exoneration and unconditional release, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

According to HRW, Norbu was taken by the police from his home in Lhasa on October 31, 2008, on suspicion that he had printed “prohibited material,” including the banned Tibetan flag. During his detention, judicial authorities refused to inform his relatives that he was being detained, or to reveal the charges against him, HRW said on its website. “He was tried in secret in November and sentenced to seven years in prison. A letter informing his family of the sentence was then hand-delivered to them. His current whereabouts are unknown.”

“Just about any material on Tibet that lacks the Chinese Communist Party’s explicit blessing is ‘prohibited material,’” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “But no one should be jailed for printing flags, books, or pictures just because a government would prefer to suppress those ideas – that’s why freedom of expression is a basic right.”

Although the authorities have not made public the details of the verdict, the nature of the initial accusations leveled against Norbu and the length of the sentence suggest that he was tried on charges of “inciting separatism” (article 103 of the Criminal Law). This vaguely defined crime has been used repeatedly to silence Tibetans resisting the tight and often arbitrary limits imposed on their freedom of expression by Chinese law, said Richardson.

A descendant of a family with a long history of printing and publishing Buddhist texts for monasteries, Norbu is an internationally renowned master printer. He used both modern and traditional woodblock printing techniques in his workshop, which employed several dozen workers. In addition to religious texts, the shop printed prayer flags, folk reproductions, books, leaflets, and traditional literature.

After Norbu’s arrest, the police closed his shop, affixed notices of official closure on the door, and prohibited employees from returning. The police also confiscated books and woodblocks from the shop’s collection.

“Instead of persecuting Paljor Norbu, the Chinese government should prize his contributions toward historical and cultural preservation,” said Richardson.

Human Rights Watch said that Norbu was not granted even the minimal rights that are supposed to be provided under Chinese criminal procedures. Violations included the failure to notify his family of his formal arrest or of the trial date; the refusal to reveal where he was detained; the failure to allow him defense representation of his choice in court; the failure to communicate the full verdict of the trial; and, the refusal to inform the family of his current whereabouts and of where he will serve his prison term.

Human Rights Watch said it has observed an increase in the number of arrests and convictions related to exercising the freedom of expression in recent weeks, indicating that the crackdown that Chinese authorities threatened after Tibetan protests in March 2008 was extending beyond the people suspected of involvement in those demonstrations. Other recent cases include:

· Jigme Gyatso (lay name Jigme Guri), a senior monk from the Labrang monastery, who was re-arrested on November 4 after he described how he had been tortured by the police during his detention in March and who is now in custody in Lanzhou (Gansu province);

· Norzin Wangmo (Chinese name: Longzhen Wangmu [龙真旺姆]), an employee of the Judicial Bureau of Hongyuan county (Sichuan province), sentenced on November 3 to five years of imprisonment after he told relatives abroad of the situation in Tibet; and

· Dhondup Wangchen, who had been detained in March in Tong De (Qinghai province), for his role in filming a clandestine documentary in the Tibetan areas. He is being held in the Ershilipu detention center in Xining.

“The Chinese government will almost certainly say that the charges brought against Paljor Norbu were ‘in accordance with the law,’” said Richardson. “But, by definition, those laws restrict free speech, and until the government brings its laws into conformity with international human rights norms, we will continue to see peaceful critics like Norbu incarcerated for alleged ‘separatism.’”