Spanish lawsuit will ratchet up pressure on China: Tibetan dissidents

Tuesday June 28, 05:42 PM

EL ESCORIAL, Spain (AFP) - A Spanish lawsuit against former Chinese leaders over repression in Tibet will put severe pressure on Beijing and place the government's human rights record firmly in the spotlight, leading Tibetan dissidents said.

Spain's Committee for Support of Tibet (Cat) revealed at the start of a five-day human rights symposium at El Escorial, just outside Madrid, that it had lodged the suit at Spain's high court against Chinese ex-president Jiang Zemin and former prime minister Li Peng, as well as five other officials.

High-profile dissidents Takna Jigme Sangpo and Palden Gyatso enthusiastically greeted the news at a five-day symposium on "Terrorism and Torture," which chairman and top Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon opened Monday with a round-table discussion.

"We are not against the material and economic development of China, which we welcome. But my purpose here is to tell the truth of my experiences and imprisonment and show there are no human rights in China," said Takna, who has spent half of his 79 years in jail for fomenting protests against Chinese occupation.

"I am upset that people keep talking about China and how it is developing -- but not about what is happening in Tibet," Takna told AFP.

"China has been exploiting and destroying Tibet," added the bearded former teacher.

"This conference will publicise our rights and suffering so people will listen to our experiences," he added.

Palden, whose dissident activities earned him 33 years in detention in prison and labour camps, wrote a book, Fire under the Snow, about his life-long struggle against Chinese occupation, which has been translated into a range of languages, including Spanish.

"China is like the snow covering us, and I am the fire underneath. I am still burning," Palden said calmly but defiantly.

"China needs more human rights, more democracy. They have minorities of their own," added Palden, who said the international community too often "pays too much lip service" to the issue of rights and democratic freedoms.

Ngawang Sangdrol, a nun jailed for 21 years for demonstrating for a free Tibet, also addressed the symposium, remarking that Tibetans were united in their support of the Dalai Lama and stressing dissidents' belief in non-violence becaause "hatred only engenders more suffering and more hatred."

Ngawang, first jailed for nine months aged just 13, spent much of her sentence in the notorious Drapchi Prison in Lhasa before international pressure helped win her release three years ago, nine years before completing her prison term.

The dissidents all related tales of incessant beatings and other forms of torture, including receiving shocks from electrical cattle prods.

"The Chinese said that if we confessed they would be lenient -- but if not the punishment would be severe," Ngawang said.

"Tibetans want to see the Dalai Lama back in Tibet and to be in charge of their own affairs," she told the gathering.

But "few dare to speak out" in Tibet, where exiles claim that some 430,000 people died in a 1959 uprising.

Garzon, who tried but failed to have former Chilean leader General Augusto Pinochet extradited to Spain to face human rights charges but who has been instrumental in pushing the concept of international justice, said governments had to lend unequivocal support.

"We need widespread governmental and political support -- we must mobilise the legal system and make common cause," said the judge, whose efforts to see crimes committed in a third country tried in Spain came to fruition with the recent conviction of Argentine former naval captain Adolfo Scilingo.

Scilingo was jailed for 640 years for torture and crimes against humanity after a trial in Madrid.

Palden said both Monday's lawsuit, which the Cat dubbed an "historic legal initiative," and the conference would send a hard-hitting message to Beijing.

"We hope the legal process means the world will listen more.

"We have suffered so much, but we do not hate the Chinese.

"Our inner spiritual values are so strong we can carry our message to the world. The flame is still burning, it is not extinguished," he vowed.