USM holds vigil for Tibet
Published: Thursday, April 10, 2008
Updated: Sunday, May 17, 2009 19:05
Nearly 75 people stood outside the Administration Building Tuesday night holding candles as they listened to a few speakers from the Southern Miss chapter of Amnesty International during a candlelight vigil protesting human rights abuses in Tibet.
Dan Capper, faculty advisor of Amnesty International and professor of religion, opened the ceremony with a speech addressing recent - and not-so-recent - events in Tibet, and around the world, which led to that night's peaceful protest.
The People's Republic of China invaded Tibet in 1950 for many reasons, Capper explained, including long-standing racism, a need for resources and the Maoist ideology that views religion as poison. The Dalai Lama, revered as a living god to most Tibetans, is outlawed in Tibet. Pictures of him, recordings of his teachings, even uttering his name are forbidden under the communist rule of China, where he is considered a terrorist, Capper said.
Karen Aderer, a graduate student from Long Beach, told students at the protest about her experience in Tibet in 1994, when she and her husband were held under house arrest for four days for smuggling a cassette tape of the Dalai Lama's teachings to a monastery. When they were taken to their hotel room, Aderer said there was a Chinese television news crew ready to film Chinese police ransack and search for Dalai Lama paraphernalia.
The Dalai Lama was awarded the United States Congressional Medal of Honor in November of last year, Capper said, and several monks held a celebration that ended in arrests. Monks from the Sera monastery in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, marched in protest on March 10, seeking human rights and the release of their fellow monks who were arrested for celebrating the Dalai Lama's award.
That protest, and the several others held by different monasteries in recent weeks, have been interrupted by riot police armed with tear gas. On March 14, "the Tibet movement changed forever" when another monastery held a peaceful march in Lhasa, Capper said.
"So the monks started to march, the riot police started beating them, and unlike other stories, unlike other occasions where this has happened, the Chinese police were immediately mobbed by many, many Tibetans," Capper told students. "Even though the police had weapons, the Tibetans, in close quarters, had them badly outnumbered."
According to Capper, this was one of the only victories Tibet has ever had over its communist rulers, and "apparently they were emboldened by this…and all of that resentment came rushing out." Though most of the movement to free Tibet has been non-violent, March 14 was an exception, and an unfavorable one, Capper said.
The Dalai Lama has asked Tibetans to stop the violence, and the monks' protests since then have been peaceful, Capper said. Several more are expected, in Tibet and around the world, between now and the Olympics in August. The Olympics are being held in Beijing, the capital of communist China.
The protest at USM Tuesday night was held soon after the Olympic torch landed in San Francisco, the only city in America on its tour. Out of concern for possibly violent protests for in San Francisco, officials made unannounced changes to the opening and closing ceremonies and even the course of the relay runners.
During the protest, Amnesty International officers directed students to tables stacked with letters to sign. The letters will go to President George Bush, to encourage him to skip the opening ceremony in Beijing, and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad, asking him to put pressure on Chinese President Hu Jintao, who will also receive a letter.
"We have to speak for people who can't speak for themselves," said Brian Cline, a psychology major from Brandon. He stood on the steps of the Administration Building as the protest came to an end and encouraged fellow students to write to media networks to ask for more coverage of the conflicts in Tibet.
Amnesty International will be holding tables next week for a benefit and raffle, the proceeds of which would aid a school for Tibetan refugees. For more information, or to help, students are invited to attend their meetings held Thursdays at 12:15 p.m. in Room 106 of the Liberal Arts Building.