A parliamentary debate on the persecution of Buddhists in Tibet was secured by the Honourable Member of Parliament Jim Shannon who is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Shadow DUP Spokesperson for Human Rights and a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet. His initiative was supported by four other parliamentarians – Fiona Bruce, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Kerry McCarthy and Catherine West, who spoke during the session yesterday.
As part of his opening presentation on the grave situation of freedom of religion in Tibet, MP Jim Shannon said that “the Chinese Communist Party tries to take control of all religious affairs of Tibetan Buddhists”, the “people of Tibet are dear to me, so I find the topic to be of special importance”, “this House will not be silenced” and “let us be a voice of the voiceless in Tibet”., He asked the “Minister how we can help to accomplish” the many appeals that were forwarded to him, including:
- protect the rights of the Tibetan people and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to follow their own religious tradition in the selection procedure of the 15th Dalai Lama,
- free the Panchen Lama,
- release all Tibetan prisoners of conscience, the majority of whom are from the monastic communities,
- freedom to practice religious traditions without fear of state persecution and
- freedom to learn Tibetan language which holds the key to accessing the complete Buddhist canons of Kangyur and Tengyur.
All the speakers highlighted the deterioration in the human rights situation in Tibet year after year and in addition to the grave religious freedom raised environmental concerns with potential to sour Indo-Chinese relations, forced boarding schools, weaponization of the Tibetans’ cultural heritage by the Chinese Government, self-immolation cases etc. Speakers quoted from ‘Tibet in 2023’ published by the Tibet Advocacy Section of DIIR as well as from other reports and submissions, including from Free Tibet, ICT, CPHRC etc. as well as the innate peaceful nature of Buddhism that plays against them receiving the international attention they deserve.
There was also stress on the inadequate and disproportionate response of the UK Government on Tibet so far. While acknowledging the difficulty in monitoring the situation “because of China’s strict hold on communication flow in the region”, it was pointed out that the UK has a moral obligation “in addition to its legal requirements under international law commitments” “to call out these abuses and to work for change”.
UK Minister for Indo-Pacific, Anne-Marie Trevelyn answered on behalf of the government and concluded that “the UK will continue to hold it [China] to account—in public, in private and in concert with our international partners. We will continue to stand up for our values, and to promote and protect human rights in Tibet and around the world. Members’ concerns about the forcefulness of messaging about and criticism of suppression from Chinese authorities are well heard today. We shall continue to press for stronger language and the continued use of sanctions tools to express the disgust and righteous anger that colleagues have set out so eloquently today.”
On the question of China’s efforts to erase the name “Tibet” and replacing it with the Chinese name, the Honourable Minister answered that “absolutely we continue to use the name Tibet … and if that is a developing narrative we must pay close attention and counter it”.
Representative Sonam Frasi of the Office of Tibet, London, attended the event to follow the parliamentary proceedings in person. Also in present to show support were Dr Desmond Biddulph, President of The Buddhist Society and Tenzin Kunga, who is both the Advocacy Officer of Free Tibet and the Chairperson of the Tibetan Community in Britain.
MP Fiona Bruce, who was until recently the Chair of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, shared that this international body which has 42 member countries has selected the 11th Panchen Lama Gedun Choekyi Nyima as the prisoner of conscience for the month of December to champion.