The International Campaign for Tibet welcomes the announcement by the EU Presidency that it intends to make an official visit to Tibet prior to the EU-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue being held in Beijing later this month.

“This is the first official EU visit to Tibet since its controversial trip of 1998. It demonstrates that the EU Presidency acknowledges the ongoing human rights abuses by China in Tibet and sends a political message to China that the EU remains concerned about the situation in the forcefully-controlled region,” said Ms. Tsering Jampa, Executive Director, ICT Europe.

“Freedom of religion is severely curtailed in Tibet as are civil and political rights. Despite the EU’s assurances that the EU-China Dialogue safeguards human rights, it is well documented that China is still imposing repressive measures in Tibet. The Troika must take the information gleaned during its visit to significantly strengthen the dialogue when it comes to Tibet,” said Ms. Jampa.

ICT maintains that human rights violations in Tibet will continue to occur so long as the political situation of Tibet remains unresolved. ICT therefore calls on the EU to use every opportunity during the visit and dialogue to encourage China to commence substantive discussions with the Dalai Lama to resolve the issue.

ICT fears the EU-China arms embargo will dominate discussions during this round of the EU-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue and rejects lifting the embargo in the near future.

“Significant change in China is warranted before the EU can morally commit to lifting the EU-China arms embargo – this is not going to happen within 6 or 12 months. China has not yet demonstrated that it would not use such weapons against its own people or to suppress political dissent in Tibet and Xinjiang,” Ms Jampa added.

The EU Troika will visit Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, and its surrounding areas from 20-23 September 2004. The trip is intended to gather information about the human rights situation there; however, it is believed that no prison visits will be made by the delegation.

“We support the EU’s decision not to visit prisons inside Tibet. Our experience from past delegations is that that visitors are not likely to see the real situation and prisoners may inadvertently be placed at risk by trying to contact the delegation or make some political statement,” said Ms. Jampa.

“Of course it is impossible for political prisoners to speak freely to visiting delegations. It is prohibited and they would only be allowed to say what the Chinese tell them to say. In 1998 we were even completely unaware of the European delegation’s visit to Drapchi. If we had known, we would have felt compelled to shout out our beliefs. After all, we were already in prison for that very reason,” said Ms. Ngawang Sangdrol, former political prisoner and ICT human rights analyst.

“Living in freedom it may be hard to imagine that a few words can bring severe punishment. But I remember how it was and every day I think of my brothers and sisters still jailed in Drapchi prison. The European delegation is obliged to speak freely to the Chinese authorities for those people. This is what I ask them to do,” Ms. Sangdrol added.

The last official EU visit to Tibet was made by a delegation of Beijing-based ambassadors in May 1998. Unbeknown to the delegation, a protest broke out during their visit to the notorious Drapchi Prision and armed People’s Armed Police (PAP) personnel were called in to control the situation. It is believed that 11 deaths of in-mates occurred in the weeks following the protests. All current political prisoners in Drapchi still suffer the consequences of incident that occurred during the EU visit, even if they were not involved in the peaceful protests, with some political prisoners reportedly still detained in punishment blocks.