Beliefnet News

Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

Washington – A federal religious freedom watchdog panel has urged President Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics unless “there is substantial improvement” in China’s treatment of Tibet.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said China must open “direct and concrete talks” with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhism, before Bush attends the opening ceremonies.
If those talks do not occur, the nine-member commission called on Bush to first visit the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, and urged Bush to request a meeting with Chinese political prisoners or dissidents during his visit.
“For too long, the Chinese have employed a `security’ approach to Tibetan Buddhism — preferring repression, control of leadership decisions, castigation of the Dalai Lama and `patriotic education’ over freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion,” said the panel’s chair, Michael Cromartie.
“That approach is no longer viable; in fact, it is counterproductive.”
Tensions flared last month between Tibetans and Chinese forces after peaceful protests against Chinese control grew violent. On Sunday (April 6), the Dalai Lama called the recent violence the result of “pent-up physical and mental anguish of the Tibetans and the feelings of deep resentment against the suppression of the rights of Tibetan people.”
The idea of boycotting the opening ceremonies has been floated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. On Monday (April 7), White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters Bush still plans to attend.
The religious freedom panel called on China to end all “patriotic education” programs of Tibetan monks, allow open expressions of devotion to the Dalai Lama and repeal laws that say Beijing must approve new lamas.
“Religious freedom cannot be ensured without recognizing the authority of the Dalai Lama, his centrality to the beliefs of Tibetan Buddhists, and their steadfast loyalty to his leadership despite severe restrictions,” Cromartie said.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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