On Monday this week the Australian All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet held an event in the parliament for Tibet Advocacy Day. The AAPGT is a bipartisan group whose purpose is to amplify Tibet's voice in parliament through events such as Tibet Advocacy Day. This year's event had a special focus on political prisoners and the human rights situation in Tibet. Together with my co-chair, Michael Danby MP, and other members of the group, we heard some telling personal stories from delegates whose lives have been directly impacted by China's harsh policies in Tibet: Mr Lobsang Lungtok, Co-Chair of the Australia Tibet Council, previously a political prisoner in Tibet; Mr Sonam Paljor,
Australia Tibet Council board member; and Ms Tenzin Chokey from South Australia. Tenzin visited parliament last year for advocacy day and is now working as a nurse in Adelaide.
The delegates' message to parliamentarians was to call upon the Chinese government to release two political prisoners in particular: Mr Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and Mr Runggye Adak. On 1 August 2007, Runggye Adak, a nomad from eastern Tibet, stepped onstage at an official function at the Lithang Horse Racing Festival. While on stage he boldly grabbed the microphone and addressed a crowd of several thousand Tibetans who had gathered for the annual festival, and he publicly called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. For this simple, brave, passionate act he was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison by the Chinese authorities, who charged him with 'provocation to subvert state power'. Runggye Adak has now spent over seven years in prison and is in seriously poor health. The Australia Tibet Council is calling on the Australian government to seek confirmation that Mr Adak will be released at the completion of his sentence and that his political rights will not be suspended.
The second case is that of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who was arrested in 2002 on charges of 'crimes of terror and incitement of separatism'. He received a death sentence with a two-year reprieve which was later commuted to life imprisonment and then reduced to a term of 20 years. His expected release date is not known, but he is known to be in extremely ill health with a heart condition. He is eligible for medical parole, which has been formally applied for by his family last year, but they have not had any response from the Chinese authorities. Throughout his trial and time in prison Tenzin has maintained his innocence. His conviction was solely based on a confession obtained under torture by his alleged co-conspirator, who was also found guilty and was executed in 2003.
There are many examples of political prisoners held in China being released on medical prole following diplomacy by foreign governments who have raised specific cases as a priority. The AAPGT is discussing how it can support the ATC in both of these cases.
The delegates also raised 31 March as the last day for countries to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and it is believed the bank plans to build 20 dams across Tibet. Tibet is the source of five major rivers that feed into India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan. If this water gets affected upstream, it could cause devastation in neighbouring countries downstream, given these countries all have agri-based economies. It is important that there be greater transparency about how the population in the fragile Tibetan plateau will be affected by these dams. Tibetans are not against development, but they want to make sure that development is inclusive of human rights, and you certainly cannot argue about that.
Our group had actually requested a visit to Tibet to see the conditions firsthand, following discussions I initiated with the visiting Chinese ambassador in early 2014. We are still waiting on that to be confirmed: we hope the proposal will be accepted, and we appreciate the assistance that we have had from our foreign minister, Julie Bishop. China must understand that if it has nothing to hide in Tibet then there is no reason why unsupervised visits to the Tibetan region should not be allowed. As we look towards 2015, we look forward to celebrating His Holiness the Dalai Lama's birthday in July and continuing to support the great work of the Australia Tibet Council to help create a better future for Tibet.