Each year in early march, Tibetan communities and their supporters around the world come together to mark the day back in 1959 when tens of thousands of Tibetans rose up against what they saw as China’s illegal occupation of their homeland.
The March 10 revolt in Lhasa was swiftly crushed by Chinese forces, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Tibetans, while thousands more, including the Dalai Lama, fled for refuge to India.
The day came to be known as Tibetan Uprising Day, and it symbolizes the Tibetan people’s ongoing struggle for freedom from Chinese rule and the return of the Dalai Lama.
Across Canada, rallies and events to mark the anniversary were held in several cities on or near march 10. In Victoria on March 5, a crowd of about 100 gathered for a rally, with many holding signs reading “Freedon for Tibet,” “50 years of oppression,” and “Tibetans are dying. China, stop the killing.”
The rally began at Centennial Square with speeches by NDP MPs Randall Garrison and Murray Rankin. The crowd then marched to the B.C. Parliament Buildings, where Green Party Leader Elizabeth May gave a speech in which she urged the Chinese regime to “respect Tibet, respect the Dalai Lama, and respect human rights.”
Also speaking was Judy Tethong, president of the local chapter of the Canada Tibet Committee and one of the first Canadians to work with Tibetan refugees in the mountains of northern India more than 50 years ago. She has been fighting for Tibetan independence ever since.
Her voice breaking with emotion, Tethong spoke of the spate of self-immolations by Tibetans in protest of heavy-handed Chinese rule, singling out 15-year-old Dorjee Tsering, who died in hospital March 4, three days after he set himself on fire in New Delhi, India.
His death marked the second such protest this year, with an estimated 144 Tibetans inside and outside Tibet having self-immolated since 2009. The immolations are seen as a desperate attempt to bring attention to Chinese oppression in Tibet as well as an extreme expression of the helplessness and anger many Tibetans feel.
Tethong said it is critical for supporters of a free Tibet to “educate the global population about the dire situation in Tibet—particularly our own political leaders.”
“We must keep on pressing our government to join other nations in multilateral action on Tibet—just as it has joined with other countries to criticize China’s drastic new cyber law,” she said.
“For too many years, Western governments have acted alone on Tibet, and China has ignored them.”
She added, however, that there is some positive news—Hillary Clinton’s recent comments on the self-immolations.
While campaigning in Minnesota on March 1, the front-runner to be the Democratic presidential candidate was approached by Jigme Ugen, president of the U.S.-based Tibetan National Congress, who wanted to update her on the latest immolations.
“Hillary stopped everything and gave me undivided attention as I briefed her,” Ugen wrote in an online posting.
“She said she has been attentive to Tibet’s plight, the abuse of human rights, and the countless self-immolations, and that she will continue to do everything to end China’s oppression of Tibetan people and their religion.”
Clinton has also spoken publicly about the issue. At the 2011 APEC summit in Hawaii, she said the United States is “alarmed by recent incidents in Tibet of young people lighting themselves on fire in desperate acts of protest. … We continue to call on China to embrace a different path.”
The Victoria rally included the singing of the Tibetan national anthem and a minute’s silence in memory of all the Tibetans who have died since China took over the country in 1959.