“We want to say to China, ‘We thought that the Olympic Games would help you improve your human rights record,” Tutu said. “We still hope… But what we are saying to the heads of state, to President George Bush, is, ‘For goodness sake, don’t go to the Beijing games… for the sake of our children, for the beautiful people of Tibet. Don’t go!'”
Already in San Francisco to receive Outspoken Award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined actor and Tibet activist Richard Gere at a peaceful protest last night, held as part of the lead up to the Olympic torch relay today.
He spoke out in support of the ongoing protests during the Olympic torch relay:
Tutu praised protesters who have put themselves on the line in Paris, San Francisco and elsewhere to protest last month’s crackdown in Tibet, which claimed as many as 140 lives.
In particular, he applauded three climbers who hung pro-Tibet banners Monday from the Golden Gate Bridge.
“I salute them,” he said.
Archbishop Tutu also called for China to begin talks with the Dalai Lama, speaking out against the latest attempt by Chinese authorities to demonize His Holiness:
“I just hope China will realize that her best interests are in listening to the Dalai Lama,” Tutu said. “Anyone who has met him, knows you have been in the presence of one of the most holy people. For someone who has been in exile now nearly 50 years, his joyousness is amazing. He bubbles. He has a sense of fun like a schoolboy, really. Sometimes I say to him, ‘Shhh. The cameras are on us. Behave like a holy man.'”
Tutu chuckled and the audience laughed with him.
“But he’s an amazing person,” Tutu continued. “I’m very sad that he’s being vilified in a way that anyone who knows him would say, ‘Oh come off it, man.’ The Dalai Lama has said clearly, let’s negotiate. We don’t want to separate from China. All we want is autonomy to preserve the very ancient Tibetan traditions and religion.”
Richard Gere gave brief, moving remarks at the candlelight vigil:
Labeling this a “decisive moment”, Gere gently chastised “our beloved Tibetan brothers and sisters” for – just for a moment – allowing themselves to manifest anger and violence. He reminded the crowd assembled of the radical ideal of Tibetan autonomy: to create a brother-and-sisterhood based on fostering love and compassion through all of its institutions.
Calling Hu Jintao’s concept of Olympic “harmony” a fraud, he asked protesters to do one simple thing: speak the truth.
Gere stated his dream was for Chinese authorities to wake up and ask themselves, “My God, what have we done? Let’s go talk to the Dalai Lama.”
Regardless of whether this is the outcome of this latest round of protests, it remains the goal of the protesters in San Francisco. And in spite of headlines bristling with the city “bracing” for protests, and intimations that this may be the last leg of the Olympic torch journey, the appeals from these two leaders last night were ones of nonviolence and peace when confronting the torch relay and everything that it has now come to symbolize.
Please keep all sides of this conflict in your thoughts, prayers and meditations as protesters line the streets of San Francisco later today to voice their support of human rights.
UPDATE Media reports are buzzing about another impromptu protest by Tibetan monks today at the Labrang monastery:
The outburst on Wednesday came as authorities guided reporters through the Labrang Monastery. The tour marked the first officially approved visit to Xiahe by foreign reporters since monks and other Tibetans in the city clashed with police last month. During the tour, about 15 monks rushed out, waving a Tibetan flag, and approached a group of about 20 Chinese and foreign reporters.
“The Dalai Lama has to come back to Tibet,” one monk said, according to Reuters, which was invited on the tour. “We are not asking for Tibetan independence, we are just asking for human rights. We have no human rights now.”
Several monks draped their heads in robes, Reuters reported, possibly as an attempt to conceal their identities and avoid later punishment. They also said that local authorities were holding other monks and that armed, plainclothes security officers were posted around the city.
ABC News has first-hand impressions of the protest by their reporter at the monastery:
There in the courtyard were 15 young monks marching. Some were chanting loudly, most had grim expressions on their faces.
Two monks at the head of the column were holding a Tibetan banner, identified as a sign of support of the exiled Dalai Lama and considered “reactionary” by China’s regime. One monk in the group covered his head with part of his saffron robe.
I approached one of them and asked in Chinese what the others were shouting. He translated from the Tibetan, “We want human rights! We want freedom!”
The young monk went on, “We want the Dalai Lama to return! We want to preserve our religion!”
The demonstration petered out as more older monks showed up and persuaded the younger monks to leave.
He said these protesting monks did not represent the majority of monks. He added that these young monks did not understand the history of China and Tibet and were misled by “separatists.”