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Lys Anzia – WNN Breaking Commentary

Tibetan Bhuddhist nun stands in street after setting herself on fire

A Buddhist nun in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China stands still in the street after setting herself on fire as an act of protest against the Chinese government. This image is from a video that was smuggled out of China in 2011.

(WNN) London, UNITED KINGDOM, WESTERN EUROPE: As a Buddhist myself I’ve been concerned like many others for over a decade about the treatment of indigenous Tibetans inside China, many who follow the spiritual teachings of the Dalai Lama, who received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

The changing face of modern China has had an open opportunity to bridge diversity of thought and religion within its borders over the last decade, but it has critically failed to do so.

And it’s not just indigenous Tibetans who are feeling the pressures placed on them by the Chinese government today. Numerous youth inside China are cautious as they juggle increasing fears of surveillance if they begin to speak out in any way. Those concerned with human rights who are living inside China’s borders know that the surveillance machine inside the country is active and very much alive.

In China blogging even someone else’s ideas, if they grate against the government, can be a dangerous business.

During the flower-laying ceremony in front of the Chinese embassy in London yesterday, that marked the remembrance of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Chinese Officials from the Embassy reacted strongly. Coming outside of the Embassy building, embassy officials threw the flowers offered for the anniversary of the Massacre back at the anniversary attendees.

The harsh reaction to the event, organized by Amnesty International UK and attended by representatives of Tibet support groups including Free Tibet, deepens the ongoing image of China as a region that will not allow diversity of thought, philosophy, religion or politics.

Tibetan Buddhists, as a religious minority in the region, aren’t the only ones who have undergone continued monitoring and imprisonment inside China, imprisonment which has numbered, as of October 10, 2013, 1,308 separate individual cases of political or religious-based incarceration. Christians now also appear to be on the watch list of China’s government as a second Christian church, within only a few weeks of another church in April, was scheduled to be torn down by Chinese officials.

As the first bouquet of flowers was ‘gently’ laid yesterday on the steps of the Embassy by Amnesty International’s Director Katherine Allen, along with Ti-Anna Wang, the daughter of a Chinese democracy activist who was arrested and placed in prison twelve years ago, both women were pushed off the steps of the Embassy by members who work in the Embassy.

Embassy officials were then ushered back into their building by police security as what was meant to be a ceremony of honoring those who died for ‘believing in democracy’ continued.

“Regardless of the changes that have been made in China over the last 25 years, in Tibet the events of Tiananmen Square are present and alive today,” outlined Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, director of Free Tibet to the press following the remembrance ceremony.

As a non-governmental organization working to bring human rights and self-determination to the people living inside what was once considered the country of Tibet, the organization Free Tibet has documented an ongoing and harsh situation for human rights inside China since 1987. Under the global need to bring transparency and ‘more humane’ China forward, Free Tibet’s website online is one of numerous websites that are currently blocked from viewers who live inside the region.

History has shown that the seven week democracy movement did end in death and injury to too many of those involved in what was largely a youth movement. As the movement was crushed at its roots, counting the exact number of those who had died became almost impossible as Chinese soldiers picked up the dead from the street where they fell. The range of deaths that occurred on June 4, 1989 is now thought to be somewhere between 500 to 1,000+ deaths.

In spite of the numbers, the People’s Republic of China continues to this day to remain hauntingly silent about what happened to so many of the protesting students who stood on the Square that day. No mention of the Massacre exists in any of the school books inside China today. Approximately 10 thousand democracy protesters were also arrested on during the days that surrounded June 4.

Dozens of people were also executed. One person, a factory worker named Miao Deshun who is now in his 50s, is still languishing in prison.

Blogger opinions in China are not the only thing China is censoring today. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are only a small part of popular internet sites that are commonly censored and blocked from viewers inside China. Other censored websites include: certain articles and parts of the archive for TIME magazine, as well as the blog page for The Wall Street Journal.

Sites like Newsweek and Wikipedia are also currently being blocked. Linkedin too has also recently reported that sections of their site, not all sections though, appear to be blocked inside China.

Along with this human rights sites like Human Rights Watch, Tibet.net and Free Tibet are censored for what most activists realize are the publishing and release of critical information that is damaging to what may be the ultimate goal of Chinese officials: to look good in the eyes of the international public.

But the attempts by the government to control Chinese society are back-firing. The public just isn’t buying it, say the experts.

Surprisingly not all sites that are talking about China’s bad record are being censored.

Censorship is something that comes and goes in China depending on many varied circumstances, say internet freedom advocates. At times only a few pages of a site are censored from view. At other times the same site may be opened up for only a few days or weeks. Sometimes the lack of censorship by Chinese officials does not make any sense.

Today when checking on a website that I assumed would definitely be blocked in China, I searched using an online service called Great Fire Wall of China. During my search I tested to see if a website called Students for a Free Tibet International was online and available for view in China. Surprisingly I found out that, yes, this site is currently showing to viewers in numerous cities inside China. Perhaps the site is functioning ‘under the radar’ of the huge team of internet monitors? It’s hard to tell.

It’s widely known that the Chinese government has long exerted tight control over internet access on the mainland, deploying an extensive apparatus to regulate what its citizens can read and publish on the web,” said Sam Frizell, current reporter with breaking news for TIME magazine.

Amazingly the People’s Republic of China has placed over two million people on the payroll to monitor the internet for any dissenting voices. What is done in addition to blocking those dissenting voices can only be guessed or talked about in whispers or private conversations inside China.

“The tank swerves right; he, to block it, moves left. The tank swerves left; he moves right. Then this anonymous bystander clambers up onto the vehicle of war and says something to its driver, which comes down to us as: ‘Why are you here? My city is in chaos because of you’,” outlines the words of TIME magazine essayist, novelist and Guggenheim Fellow Pico Iyer for an article describing the lone man who stood up to the tanks at Tiananmen Square..

It is not what has been said here, but what is not being said inside China today that is perhaps the most telling part of the story. Censorship in China is a relentless and common occurrence. And is something that its people now expect as they live and go about their daily lives day-to-day.

In the southwestern Tibetan region of China, known as the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, any mention of, or picture of, the Dalai Lama is forbidden and completely off limits. This is an arrestable offense. Along with this, strict rules of behavior and limits in the practice of religious belief are ongoing.

In spite of the current dangers to family or friends, more than 125 monks, nuns, and Tibetan citizens in China have ‘called out’ in the form of personal protest against the government’s ongoing military presence and rule in the southwestern region of China. The protesters have done this incredibly by giving up their own lives as they martyr themselves through the fire of self-immolation under what is usually considered to be a completely forbidden act in Buddhism, to give up voluntarily one’s own ‘precious body’.

This is something that has been considered “troubling” to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who also acknowledges that He understands the deep reason why these protests continue to exist.

“One lone Everyman standing up to machinery, to force, to all the massed weight of the People’s Republic–the largest nation in the world, comprising more than 1 billion people–while its all powerful leaders remain, as ever, in hiding somewhere within the bowels of the Great Hall of the People,” continued Iyer in his 1998 story for TIME.

But within Iyer’s heartfelt editorial, just like we need to listen to those who have caught themselves on fire to protest today’s military buildup in China, we also need to hear from those who remain the living victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

On a Friday May 30, 2014 a witness testimony about the Massacre was made by survivor Zhou Fengsuo.

“We all know the story of the Tank man who stood fearlessly in front of the tank. Lesser known is [the] fact that tanks chased the students after they withdrew from Tiananmen Square, and killed and wounded many,” outlined Zhou in his recent testimony made before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Friday May 30, 2014.

“Children as young as nine years old were shot dead,” continued Zhou, who as someone who is speaking out about the Tiananmen Square Massacre now safely lives outside of China in the United States. “I saw about 30 bodies of young students in the bicycle shed of FuXing Hospital,” continued Zhou.

In spite of the desire for advocates and human rights activists to know, a deep mystery still surrounds the whereabouts of that young man who stood up to the tanks in 1989. No one knows for sure where he was ushered away to after climbing up and talking directly to the tank driver, and indirectly to those who ordered the tanks to appear on Tiananmen Square on the day after the Massacre on June 5.

“China’s use of lethal force to suppress protest is not a thing of the past,” outlined Free Tibet Director Byrne-Rosengren. “Tibetans were shot and killed in 2008 and 2012 and unarmed protesters have been shot with live ammunition twice within the last year, some sustaining life-threatening injuries,” she added in a recent statement made only yesterday to the press.

“At least two Tibetan prisoners have been killed in jail within the last year and reports of torture remain widespread,” she continued.

“The courage and resilience of the Chinese people suffering under their current regime deserves our deepest respect…,” she added. “…we must also mark the courage of the Tibetans who have been resisting the occupation and brutal oppression of their country by China for more than sixty years.”

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Human rights, religion and social justice journalist Lys Anzia is the founder and former executive editor for WNN – Women News Network. In addition to WNN, her journalistic and editing work can also be seen in The Nobel Women’s Initiative, The Guardian Global Development Network, Vital Voices, Women’s Media Center, UN Women, AlertNet and Thomson Reuters, as well as many other publications.

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This 2014 story has been released to the public by WNN under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US) license.

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