China angered by presence of Dalai Lama, Uighur activist in Prague

The Dalai Lama, photo: CTK

The Chinese Embassy has protested at speeches given by the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and the exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer at a human rights conference in Prague. The “Peace, Democracy and Human Rights in Asia” conference, organised by Václav Havel’s Forum 2000 Foundation, got underway on Friday with a panel discussion on religious, cultural and indigenous rights.

The Dalai Lama has visited Prague on around half a dozen occasions, to the inevitable irritation of the Chinese government. But he’s consistently denied claims that’s he’s a separatist, and when he met a large contingent of journalists on Thursday, the Dalai Lama stressed again he was not in Prague to talk politics:

The Dalai Lama, photo: CTK
“My main commitment is two things: the number one commitment is promotion of human compassion, in order to bring inner peace. Second, promotion of religious harmony. And then, in most cases, as soon as I meet some media people, their first question is political! They ask about the present situation in Tibet. I came here as a Nobel Laureate, not for the Tibetan issue.”

This year’s conference provided an added irritant for Beijing – the presence of exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer. The Chinese government has accused Mrs Kadeer of inciting recent riots between ethnic Uighurs and majority Han Chinese that killed at least 197 people – accusations she denies. The Chinese Embassy in Prague reiterated on the eve of her arrival that in Chinese eyes, Mrs Kadeer had come to Prague to promote separatism.

Both the Dalai Lama and Rebiya Kadeer took part in Friday’s opening panel discussion on religious, cultural and indigenous rights. The Tibetan spiritual leader said democracy in China must come from within; Mrs Kadeer agreed, but said international pressure was also essential. Speaking in a later panel, Burmese democracy activist Khin Ohmar said many of Asia’s leaders seemed to suffer from the same democratic myopia:

Former president of South Africa Frederik de Klerk, the Dalai Lama, Rebiya Kadeer, photo: CTK
“The governments in our region – Asia – are often more concerned with stability and economic development in their own terms than promoting democracy and participation of the people. The Asian governments neglect to realise that the most stable form of development is one that focuses on people – men, women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, and other disenfranchised groups in society.”

The man behind the conference – the former Czech president and former political prisoner Václav Havel – stressed the importance of foreign support for Asia’s pro-democracy activists. Speaking from his personal experience as a dissident in communist Czechoslovakia, he said the support he’d received from the west in the 1970s and 80s was a huge source of encouragement.