Washington: A top American Tibetan leader has said that while people in China are enjoying comparatively more freedom, Tibet is increasingly being turned into one big prison and Tibetans are being treated as second grade citizens.

Bhuchung K Tsering, vice president, Special Programs of International Campaign for Tibet, asked Beijing to listen to the views of the people of Tibet at the earliest or else it could be too late for them.

“I believe the Tibetan people are really creating history and Beijing might want to listen before it is too late. How the new Chinese leadership will respond to the crisis in Tibet is something that we are watching closely,” Tsering said at a panel discussion held at the Capitol Hill yesterday.

“The international community should recognise that the situation in Tibet constitutes a systematic violation of human rights targeting the Tibetan culture, religion and identity in ways that reveal elements of cultural genocide, and they should use this language in general comments as well as in their interventions with Chinese officials,” he said.

Bhuchung said Chinese authorities have resorted to blatant racial discrimination against Tibetans that makes them feel like second class citizens.

“Today, while Chinese places enjoy a comparative more freedom, whether of movement, expression or assembly, the Tibetan areas are increasingly being turned into one big prison. There is heavy security crackdown in Tibetan areas now. Several of the monasteries whose members have undertaken self-immolation are under lockdown with restrictions on the monks’ religious practices,” he said.

“While China simplified passport application process for majority of Chinese people with many getting their passports within weeks, Tibetans are virtually being denied new passports currently. Tibetan applicants for passports are subjected to a new procedure that are not implemented for Chinese. Worse still, the authorities in the Tibet Autonomous Region have in fact been confiscating the passports of the few fortunate Tibetans who have them,” he said.

He said Tibetans from one area cannot travel to another area without prior permission.

A Tibetan from east and north-east Tibet needs at least four approval letters from different security-related offices to go on a pilgrimage to Lhasa, he added.

“While China is proudly heralding the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law that talks about ‘respecting and protecting human rights’ we are seeing a new reign of terror in the Tibetan areas where ordinary Tibetans are being threatened with guilt by association on matters relating to the self-immolations,” Bhuchung said, referring to sentencing of Buddhist monk and his nephew.

“Therefore, the situation in Tibet is at breaking point. Instead of trying to understand the underlying causes of the Tibetan self-immolations, the Chinese authorities are imposing measures that will only lead to heightened tension,” he said, urging that China should heed the call of the international community, led the United Nations, the US and the EU to address the “deep underlying issues” in Tibet.