Tibetan PM elect visits TYC hunger strikers, urges end to fast

Tibetan PM elect Lobsang Sangay is briefed by TYC president Tsewang Rinzin at Jantar Mantar, where 3 TYC executives have been fasting since April 25, 2011.

Dharamsala, May 13 - Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister elect of the Tibetan government-in-exile, met Thursday with three executive members of the Tibetan Youth Congress who are on an indefinite hunger strike in New Delhi to protest against a clampdown by Chinese authorities at the Kirti monastery in Tibet's Ngaba County.

The Tibetan Youth Congress, which says the aim of the hunger strike – now in its 18th day – is to demand the immediate withdrawal of the Chinese security forces from the monastery and the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including those recently arrested in Ngaba, which has been at the centre of political dissent since March this year. The TYC is also demanding that a Tibetan Youth Congress delegation is granted access to Tibet to assess the situation of political prisoners there.

“I am here to show my solidarity and say thank you on behalf of the Tibetan people and also to tell them that we are with them,” the Tibetan Prime minsiter elect who will assume office in August told reporters after meeting the three men in a makeshift tent at Jantar Mantar, which was also the site of Indian social activist Anna Hazare’s fast against corruption in April.

“I’ve known them for some time and I know them to be really committed and dedicated leaders in our community. So what they’re doing, actually putting their health and lives at risk, is to protest against the continuing occupation of Tibet, specifically the ongoing and unfolding tragedy in Kirti monastery,” said Mr. Sangay.

Mr. Sangay himself was a leading member of the Tibetan Youth Congress during his college days at the Delhi university.

TYC, the Tibetan Diaspora's largest pro independence group often likened to a terrorist organization by China, says that the Kirti monastery has remained under complete military lockdown since the self-immolation and death of a 24-year old monk on March 16. According to human rights groups, the young monk was protesting against Chinese rule in Tibet and timed his self-immolation to coincide with the third anniversary of widespread protests across the region, including in the capital Lhasa, as well as Ngaba. 

According to the Tibetan Youth Congress, the current crackdown at the Kirti monastery has left over 2,500 monks facing food shortages, while some 44 arbitrary arrests of Tibetans have been reported and 300 monks “for whose safety we are deeply concerned” have been taken from the monastery to an unknown location.

“Many of the monks are being arrested and put behind bars and we know the consequences, many of them will suffer tremendously. Some might face torture as well,” said Mr. Sangay.

“Tibetans outside and inside are one family. We are divided not by choice but by force, and even though we are outside, we feel the pain of the Tibetans inside Tibet.”

Mr. Sangay’s show of support for the hunger strikers will no doubt catch the attention of Beijing, which heavily criticized the Dalai Lama’s announcement earlier this year that he was retiring from politics. The religious leader’s decision means Mr. Sangay, who was elected prime minister last month becomes the top political advocate for Tibetans in exile.

“His Holiness made the magnanimous decision to dissolve his political power to elected leaders. It is not a question of replacing him, he’s irreplaceable, he’s led us brilliantly for the last 50 years and he will be a great source of inspiration for all of us,” Mr. Sangay said. 

China claims that Tibet is part of its territory and says that the region benefits from billions of dollars of investment from Beijing, but Tibetans fear that their ethnic identity and religious freedom are under threat. The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi wasn’t immediately reachable for comment.

Mr. Sangay said he hadn’t had any direct communications with Chinese authorities, but he said that his number one priority as Kalon Tripta, or prime minister, “is to restore freedom in Tibet and to have his holiness the Dalai Lama return to his rightful place in Lhasa.”

“The stated policy of the Tibetan government in exile is the middle-way, which seeks genuine autonomy within China. So, I as the Kalon Tripa elect, when I take over, which is likely to be in mid-August, will implement that policy,” he said.

He also appealed to the three hunger strikers to end their fast. According to the Tibetan Youth Congress, the three men – Dhondup Lhadar, Konchok Yangphel and Tenzin Norsang – have respectively lost 15 kilograms, 11 kgs and 9 kgs in weight since the hunger strike started on April 25, while their blood pressure has recently dropped below normal. 

Tsewang Rigzin, president of the TYC, said the three men had only had water since the strike began and that they spend all their time inside the tent in Jantar Mantar. Mr. Rigzin, who sleeps on the floor of the tent every night, added that they haven’t had any response yet from Chinese authorities.

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