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Federal Politics

10 Aug 2017

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Defending human rights

I’ve served in Federal Parliament for 20 years and have always been at the forefront supporting international human rights.

The petition I organised for the release of Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim drew 62 Australian MP’s signatures. I led the parliamentary campaign for China’s jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Iran’s persecuted Bahai minority, the African Muslims of Darfur (Western Sudan) and the Uyghur people have all had support in parliament from me.

Perhaps the human rights cause to which I’ve devoted most effort is the peaceful Tibetan’s, whose suffering at the hands of China continues to be largely ignored. It is something that we will look back on in shame in the decades to come.

At the beginning of the New Year, two million Tibetan Buddhists gathered in the Indian town of Bodh Gaya, where Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment. They came from around the world to receive a major teaching from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Ironically, Tibetans from Tibet, perhaps the most loyal followers of the Dalai Lama, are banned from attending. For these people seeing their exiled spiritual leader was the dream of their lifetime. The Chinese government crushed their dreams.

In the months leading up to Kalachakra, as it is called - the Chinese authorities confiscated the passports of many Tibetans. Just days before the event, authorities demanded that all Tibetans who had reached India return home or face severe consequences such as losing one’s job, pension or ration cards. 7000 Tibetans had to go back from India. During the 12-day event, the Chinese authorities threatened Tibetans that sharing videos or news articles about the event would lead to arrest and imprisonment.

When it comes to handling the Tibet issue, China is often its own worst enemy. Tibetans who travelled to India were religious pilgrims - the purpose was religious, but they returned to their home country politicised. A global leader of peace and compassion, the Dalai Lama is loved and revered by millions around the world. This simple Buddhist monk, as the Dalai Lama likes to call himself, is feared by a nation with the world’s largest population, the second-largest standing army and the second-biggest economy.

The recent crackdown on Tibetan pilgrims is part of China’s intensifying attempt to undermine the Dalai Lama’s influence. It is a serious violation of the Tibetan people’s freedom of religion. In addition they are not only restricted from travelling overseas, they also face difficulty in moving freely within their own country.

To go to Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, Tibetans from other towns need to carry a full range of identification documents. In contrast, without problems Chinese tourists and migrants from mainland China travel to Tibet. The Chinese government also restricts international tourists, journalists and diplomats from travelling to Tibet.

The international community must condemn the lockdown of Tibet. Just as the Chinese people have open access to Australia, Australians should have access to Tibet. For over two years, the Chinese government has failed to respond to requests by Australian parliamentarians to visit Tibet.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Lobsang Sangay, the recently elected representative of Tibetans in exile, appeal for The Middle Way - where Tibetan religion, culture and language be respected as undertaken by the Chinese Constitution.

I call on the Australian government to renew its support for our endeavour to visit Tibet over the term of this parliament.


Michael Danby

Federal Member for Melbourne Ports

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