China Blocks Poet from Award

Chinese authorities have placed outspoken Tibetan writer Woeser under virtual house arrest.
2012-03-01
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Tibetan writer Woeser in an undated filephoto.
AFP

Updated at 5:15 p.m. EST on 2012-03-01

Chinese authorities have prevented outspoken Tibetan poet Tsering Woeser from receiving a Dutch cultural award on Thursday and placed her under virtual house arrest for one month, according to her personal microblog and her husband.

On Wednesday evening, Woeser tweeted that authorities had visited her home and stopped her from going the next day to the Dutch embassy in Beijing, where she was to receive the Prince Claus Award for her struggle to uphold Tibetan rights.

“The ‘pandas’ are here again.... I know why they have come,” she wrote, using a euphemism for state security officers.

“It’s like this. I am honored to have been given the 2011 Prince Claus Award of the Netherlands. The Dutch ambassador was to present the award to me,” she explained.

The Amsterdam-based Prince Claus Fund, which manages the award, honored Woeser, who is part Tibetan and part Han Chinese and writes in Chinese, for her courage in writing about political and cultural issues in Tibet and for her “active commitment to self-determination, freedom, and development in Tibet.”

The group, set up in honor of Prince Claus of the Netherlands, said it “regrets that Tsering Woeser is denied the opportunity to receive the 2011 Prince Claus Award from the hands of the Dutch ambassador in China today.”

Christa Meindersma, the director of the Prince Claus Fund, said that the authorities’ restrictions on Woeser were a sign of her significance as an activist.

“The fact that Tsering Woeser is not free to leave her home and freely express herself, demonstrates once again the importance of her voice,” she said in a statement on the organization’s website.

In recent weeks, Woeser has posted on her blog photos and information about Tibetans self-immolating in protest against Chinese rule.  The self-immolations, 23 since February 2009, have led to a security clampdown and the detention of hundreds of Tibetans.

Woeser said Chinese authorities had pressured Dutch officials and the foundation, which is supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not to honor her with the award.

“Originally, the president of the foundation was going to come to present it too, but the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands refused him a visa and he couldn’t come to Beijing. Also, the Dutch embassy in China has been warned that they are not allowed to give me the award,” she wrote on Twitter under the username @Degewa.

She said was told she is not allowed to leave her house without permission for one month and that police are stationed outside her building.

Low-key event

Woeser’s husband, renowned author Wang Lixiong, told RFA that  the event in her honor was supposed to be a low-profile dinner on Thursday.

“Tonight’s dinner was small-scale and it was not open to media.   It shouldn’t have been the talk of the town but it is the way the Chinese government handled this issue – as we were put under house arrest – that has turned this simple issue into a diplomatic scandal,” said Wang, who is a prominent critic of Sino-Tibetan relations.

“Actually the Dutch ambassador was having a closed-door family dinner tonight to congratulate Woeser on winning the Prince Claus Award because the Chairman of the Prince Claus Fund did not get a visa from the Chinese embassy [to visit himself].”

Both Woeser and her husband are also signers of Charter 08, a controversial manifesto circulated online in 2008 that called for sweeping changes in China’s government.

This is not the first time Woeser, who contributes reports to RFA, has been banned from receiving an award or faced police surveillance.

In October 2010, she was barred from attending a ceremony in New York for the Courage in Journalism Award she was given by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

The daughter of a high-ranking officer in the People’s Liberation Army, Woeser was raised in Lhasa and a Tibetan area of Sichuan province and educated in Chinese.  She worked as a reporter in Lhasa and Sichuan before she was forced to leave her post editing a literary magazine for “political errors.”

She moved to Beijing and continued to write poems, essays, and reports on the current situation in Tibet. She and her husband have lived under police surveillance on and off since March 2008, when they spoke to reporters about unrest in Tibet.

Woeser's blog and personal online accounts were hacked in 2010, after she wrote about student demonstrations in Tibetan calling for protections for the Tibetan language.

March is a sensitive time for Tibet, marking several anniversaries, including that of the unsuccessful revolt against China that caused the Dalai Lama to flee in 1959.

Reported by RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated by Feng Xiaoming. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.