LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Approximately 30 people – including several representatives from UCSB’s chapter of Students for a Free Tibet – gathered outside the Chinese Consulate on Friday.
The students were recognizing the 14th birthday of the Buddhist Panchen Lama, who was allegedly kidnapped eight years ago by Chinese authorities in an attempt redirect Tibet’s political future. The Panchen Lama has been designated by Tibetans to succeed the Dalai Lama as their leader.
Miguel Mendoza, a junior political science major, led protesters as they marched in front of the large building toting signs that read “Shame on China!” and “Free the Panchen Lama Now!”
Mendoza, president of UCSB Students for a Free Tibet, and six other UCSB students were joined by representatives from Amnesty International and Los Angeles residents in their march against China’s 53 years of rule in Tibet.
Mendoza said that he had hoped for a larger turnout.
“I’m used to bigger protests. I came from the Bay Area, and we have a bigger Tibetan population there. This one was a lot smaller than I expected but, you know, you gotta do what you gotta do,” he said.
A cardboard memorial titled “China’s Great Wall of Shame” was constructed for Friday’s event and erected outside the consulate. The large prop held pictures of Tibetan political prisoners and told stories of China’s repression and acts of cruelty against the Tibetan people.
A small assembly was also held at 2:00 p.m., during which Tseten Phanucharas, a founding member and former president of the Board of Directors of Los Angeles Friends of Tibet, spoke about China’s role in the kidnapping of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the missing Panchen Lama.
“It’s so sad. It’s really pathetic, actually, that such a powerful nation would hold a little kid as hostage. What could China possibly gain through this act except to demonstrate to the world how petty it is?” Phanucharas said. “How can it hold up its head around the world and try to take its place in the community of nations?”
Phanucharas’ speech was followed by a mock execution performed by Mendoza and fellow protesters. Mendoza portrayed a Chinese military officer demanding the execution of six Tibetans. Each Tibetan wore a large sign that stated a political or social right the protestors claimed China has repressed in Tibet – the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, environmental protection, equal education and reproductive rights.
“Your sad and small voices will be crushed,” Mendoza announced as each Tibetan was then cut down by a red axe painted like the Chinese flag.
Close to 1,000 letters asking for the release of the Panchen Lama had been collected by Friday’s protesters, and members of Los Angeles Friends of Tibet attempted to hand deliver them to the Chinese Consulate. However, after trying for several minutes to enter the locked building, the sack of letters was left outside the doors and protesters continued to march.
Current activists in the struggle for Tibetan freedom are requesting an impartial party be allowed to contact the Panchen Lama to ensure his safety and wellbeing.
“We believe that he is alive, although no one can say for sure,” Phanucharas said.