Tibetans hold candlelight vigil in Downtown Berkeley

Samantha Rosenbaum/Staff

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A candlelight vigil was held in Downtown Berkeley on Tuesday in coordination with similar demonstrations nationwide, urging the United Nations to take action against political repression in Tibet.

About 60 Tibetan demonstrators and supporters attended the evening vigil, holding posters of monks, nuns and other native Tibetans who have set themselves on fire as acts of protest against the Chinese government. Attendees gathered to hear prayers, songs and speeches from Palden Gyatso — a Tibetan monk who spent more than thirty years as a political prisoner.

Tenzin Rangdol, president of the San Francisco Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, said the nationwide demonstrations are intended to spur the United Nations to take action on behalf of Tibet against Chinese occupation.

More than 50 Tibetans have immolated themselves since March 2011 in mostly the Ngaba County in China’s Sichuan Province.

“Right now the United Nations is holding their 67th general assembly meeting,” Rangdol said. “They are discussing human rights, but the issue of human rights in Tibet is nowhere on that agenda. We want to make sure that the UN stands up for their principles to uplift human rights.”

The vigil was organized by the congress with support from the Tibetan Association of Northern California, said Tsering Dolkar, the general secretary of the regional congress.

“We believe that the people of Berkeley are more sensitive toward the Tibetan cause,” Dolkar said. “We believe the people of Berkeley will support us, since they have seen us do this every year.”

The regional congress vice president Tenzin Tsokyi said the demonstration was a step toward building a broad base of support by asking multiple governments to speak out and condemn China for all its human rights violations.

“We have huge support from the city of Berkeley,” Tsokyi said. “They allow us to raise our flag every year on March 10, Tibetan National Uprising Day.”

Last year, a Berkeley City Council bill was written in recognition of self-immolation as a reaction to repression by the Chinese government.

“There is no precedent for self-immolation in terms of religious practice,” said Tenzin Mingyur Paldron, a UC Berkeley graduate student and co-author of the bill. “It’s not at all a historical practice within Tibetan Buddhism.”

As the demonstration drew to a close, a group of Tibetan teenagers sang Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World,” as video footage of burning protesters in Tibet played behind them.

“It’s important to see where it was taking place and where it began,” Paldron said. “There is a link between who is engaging in self-immolation and those groups who feel repression the most significantly.”

A supporter of the demonstration, Lobsang Palden, traveled from as far as Richmond to take part in the vigil.

“We’re here to show our solidarity with the people who sacrificed their lives for our country,” he said. “We can’t burn our bodies, but we can just show them our support.”

Contact Gautham Thomas at [email protected].