President Hu Jintao
People’s Republic of China
Zhongnanhai, Xichengqu, Beijing City
People’s Republic of China
Dear Mr. President,
Over the course of the last two weeks the world has witnessed an outbreak of protests across the Tibetan plateau, followed in most instances by a harsh, violent repression. In the majority of cases these protests have been peaceful. The result has been an unknown number of arrests and the loss of numerous lives, which have been overwhelmingly Tibetan. This has understandably triggered widespread concern and anguish across the globe. As scholars engaged in Tibetan Studies, we are especially disturbed by what has been happening. The civilization we study is not simply a subject of academic enquiry: it is the heritage and fabric of a living people and one of the world’s great cultural legacies. We express our deep sorrow at the horrible deaths of the innocent, including Chinese as well as Tibetans. Life has been altered for the worse in places with which we are well acquainted; tragedy has entered the lives of a people we know well. At the time this statement is being written, continued arrests and shootings are being reported even of those involved in peaceful protest, the accused are being subjected to summary justice without due process and basic rights, and countless others are being forced to repeat political slogans and denunciations of their religious leader.
Silence in the face of what is happening in Tibet is no longer an option. At this moment the suppression of political dissent appears to be the primary goal of authorities across all the Tibetan areas within China, which have been isolated from the rest of China and the outside world. But such actions will not eliminate the underlying sense of grievance to which Tibetans are giving voice. As scholars we have a vested interest in freedom of expression. The violation of that basic freedom and the criminalization of those sentiments that the Chinese government finds difficult to hear are counterproductive. They will contribute to instability and tension, not lessen them.
It cannot be that the problem lies in the refusal of Tibetans to live within restrictions on speech and expression that none of us would accept in our own lives. It is not a question of what Tibetans are saying: it is a question of how they are being heard and answered. The attribution of the current unrest to the Dalai Lama represents a reluctance on the part of the Chinese government to acknowledge and engage with policy failures that are surely the true cause of popular discontent. The government’s continuing demonization of the Dalai Lama, which falls far below any standard of discourse accepted by the international community, serves only to fuel Tibetan anger and alienation. A situation has been created which can only meet with the strongest protest from those of us who have dedicated our professional lives to understanding Tibet’s past and its present; its culture and its society. Indeed, the situation has generated widespread shock among peoples inside and outside China as well, and we write in full sympathy with the twelve-point petition submitted by a group of Chinese writers and intellectuals on 22 March.
Therefore, we call for an immediate end to the use of force against Tibetans within China. We call for an end to the suppression of Tibetan opinion, whatever form that suppression takes. And we call for the clear recognition that Tibetans, together with all citizens of China, are entitled to the full rights to free speech and expression guaranteed by international agreements and accepted human rights norms.
FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF THE HUNDREDS OF SIGNATURES BY DISTINGUISHED INTERNATIONAL SCHOLARS visit: Tibet Open letter