Woeser Dedicates Award to Tibetan Self-immolators

2013-03-06
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tibet-woeser-2009.jpg
Woeser in an undated photo.
AFP

Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser, among 10 women set to win the International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. State Department, said she is dedicating the prize to the more than 100 Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in protests challenging Chinese rule in Tibetan areas.

She also said she would not relent in her struggle to uphold Tibetan rights.

"It is a great honor to receive this award, and I feel honored," the Beijing-based Woeser said in a brief interview with RFA's Mandarin service.

"I think it is an expression of concern for Tibet [from the international community]."

She said in a separate interview with RFA's Tibetan Service that she is unable to go in person to Washington to receive the award this week because she could not obtain a passport.

"The Chinese government did not issue me with a passport," she said. "The U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing tried hard, but China would not issue me a passport."

She added: "I am not the only person. Many Tibetans can't get a passport to travel abroad ... I have never been overseas to receive any award."

Woeser said she believes the award is deserved by all the Tibetans who have self-immolated so far.

"I would like to give this award to those Tibetans who have set themselves on fire," she said.

A total of 107 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze so far in protests challenging Beijing’s rule in Tibetan areas and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, who lives in exile in India.

Courage

Woser said that the self-immolations have given her the courage to continue with her struggle.

The self-immolators "who have expressed their desire to resist the forces of oppression by bathing their bodies in fire are the reason why I will not give up, and why I will not compromise," she said, according to a State Department document released ahead of the award presentation this week in conjunction with International Women's Day.

The State Department said that amid increasing self-immolations and other protests in Tibetan areas of China, Woeser "has emerged as the most prominent mainland activist speaking out publicly about human rights conditions" for the Tibetans.

Her website, Invisible Tibet, together with her poetry and nonfiction and social media, like Twitter, have given voice to millions of ethnic Tibetans "who are prevented from expressing themselves to the outside world due to government efforts to curtail the flow of information," the department said.

"Despite the constant surveillance of security agents and routinely being placed under house arrest during periods deemed to be politically sensitive, Tsering Woeser bravely persists in documenting the situation for Tibetans," it said.

Chinese courts have jailed more than a dozen Tibetans, including monks, in connection with the self-immolation protests in the last few weeks. Some were given jail terms of up to 15 years.

Human rights groups have criticized the Chinese authorities for criminalizing the burning protests.

'No freedom of movement'

Woeser said police were currently guarding her Beijing home for the duration of the National People's Congress (NPC) parliamentary session this month.

"There is a guard on my house because of the parliamentary sessions, and I have to ride in a police car to buy groceries," she said.

"I have no freedom of movement."

Woeser said her house arrest would last for 20 days, until the parliament has finished its session.

In a recent commentary broadcast by RFA's Mandarin Service, Woeser said she saw little likelihood that incoming president Xi Jinping will take a more accommodating line with Tibet.

She said many Tibetans cherish a dream of greater autonomy under Chinese rule, a position espoused by the Dalai Lama as the "Middle Way."

"For the Chinese Communist Party, the "Middle Way" is still "de facto independence," and "independence" is a sin which cannot be pardoned," Woeser wrote.

"It interferes with China's 'core interests' relating to territory and sovereignty, and so this dream must be crushed."

"There is no room for the dreams of Tibetans in the 'Chinese dream.'"

'Personal risk'

Lobsang Sangay, the political leader of the India-based exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), said Woeser received the award because of "her courage and dedication to the cause of Tibet."

"Despite facing great personal risk, she has kept informing the rest of the world, including the Chinese people, about the issue of Tibet,” he said.

Author Mo Li, a close friend of Woeser's now living in Sweden, welcomed the award as a recognition of her friend's courage.

"We see in Tibetan writer Woeser the spirit of Chinese culture which has already been lost among Han Chinese," Mo Li said.

Mo Li said a poet had said of Woeser that "the entire Himalayas rests on the shoulders of a frail woman," as a metaphor for the burden Woeser carried in the form of police harassment and constant surveillance.

Reported by Shen Hua for RFA's Mandarin service, by Dolkar for the Tibetan service, and by Pan Jiaqing for the Cantonese service. Translated by Karma Dorjee and Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.