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Canada Turns the Spotlight on Tibet’s Political Prisoners

By Lobsang Tsering and Mary Trewartha  /  December 4, 2017;

From left – Senator Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition), Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, Senator Linda Frum, Senator Marilou McPhedran and Senators Dennis Patterson

The Government of Canada has this month requested China to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief to visit Tibet’s missing Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who is being held in detention in China. This request was prompted by concern about political prisoners in Tibet; especially in relation to the world’s youngest political prisoner, Tibet’s missing Panchen Lama, according to a report published by the Canada Tibet Committee.

Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was abducted along with his family by the Chinese authorities in 1995 at the age of six following his discovery and recognition by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s whereabouts have been unknown since his abduction. He is one of the most important figures of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition – his spiritual authority second only to that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Canadian Government’s request was made by the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon Chrystia Freeland, whose statements came in response to written questions submitted in June by Parliamentary Friends of Tibet Vice-Chair Randall Garrison, a National Democratic Party member of Parliament. Mr Garrison had requested details of how the Government has applied its Guidelines on Supporting Human Rights Defenders in the case of Tibet. He enquired about the efforts made by Canadian representatives to follow up on requesting the Government of China to “provide legitimate evidence of the well-being and whereabouts of Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima” as well as the progress made by the Canadian Embassy in Beijing in obtaining permission for a Canadian diplomatic delegation to visit Tibet’s Panchen Lama in detention.

Gendhun Choekyi Nyima at the age of six

The report quotes Minister Freeland as saying that Canada is “closely monitoring the cases of Tibetan human rights defenders who have been detained. This includes seeking trial attendance where possible.” The Minister also said that Canada has called upon China to provide specific information on the location of Tibet’s Penchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents, the level of education that Gedhun has reached, and the expected date for his return along with his parents.

And on November 23, Canadian Senators launched an inquiry into the situation regarding five political prisoners in Tibet, including the Panchen Lama. Senator Dennis Glen Patterson is leading the inquiry, together with Senators Marilou McPhedran, Thanh Hai Ngo, Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) and Linda Frum.

“I do hope that this inquiry will serve, as our government reaches out to engage with China, to emphasise that…we must also reinforce and advocate for the basic human rights and freedoms that we cherish and protect in Canada,” said Patterson.

The move comes ahead of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to China next month.

Political prisoners Lobsang Jamyang (left), Shokjang (Centre) and Tashi Wangchuk (right)

The inquiry will look into the cases of other Tibetan political prisoners including Dr Yeshe Choedron; Shokjang, the writer; Tashi Wangchuk, the education rights activist and the monk from Ngaba, Lobsang Jamyang. The senators queried the lack of specific details on the names, whereabouts and statistics of 650 political prisoners and concern over the ill-treatment they face during interrogations. Also mentioned was that trials in China do not meet international standards and that political prisoners are denied access to legal representation.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Senator Martin, said “Often times, these individuals have been convicted of so-called ‘crimes’ relating to peaceful political activities or the mere exercise of their fundamental human rights.”

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