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Religious freedom panel urges Bush not to attend Beijing games


An independent US federal body that monitors religious freedom is urging President George W. Bush not to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing unless there are discernible changes in China’s policy towards Tibet.

The Washington-based Commission on International Religious Freedom, in a 4 April statement, said that if Bush should decide to attend the games, he should first visit the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, or another Tibetan area, "in an affirmation of the US commitment to religious freedom for Tibetans, as well as for China’s other growing religious communities".

The August games in Beijing are becoming a symbol for human rights protesters in different parts of the world, both because of China’s recent crackdown in Tibet as well as the country’s close relationship with the government of Sudan, accused of widespread human rights abuses in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

On 7 April, protesters disrupted the running of the Olympic torch in Paris, the same day that US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged Bush to boycott the opening Olympic ceremonies in Beijing, citing the protests and Chinese-Sudanese ties. "These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China," Clinton said.

China accuses the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhists, of promoting demonstrations in Tibet led by Buddhist monks in order to try to sabotage the 8-24 August games. The Dalai Lama denies this, saying he wants the games to go ahead.

In its statement, the US religious freedom body, a group supported by the two main parties in the US Congress and which is mandated to monitor abuse of freedom of religion or belief internationally, said an example of China’s willingness to improve the situation in Tibet would be to hold "direct and concrete talks" with the Dalai Lama.

Other examples, the commission said, would be lifting current restrictions "that are the source of resentment and protest … announcing that devotion to the Dalai Lama, including displaying and venerating his picture, is not a criminal act", and "unconditionally releasing all detained monks and nuns".

"China’s plans to ‘pacify’ Tibet through religious repression alongside economic modernisation and in-migration of mostly ethnic Han Chinese have fuelled a deep and lasting resentment," said Michael Cromartie, the commission’s chairperson.

"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 thought, conscience, and religion. That approach is no longer viable; in fact, it is counterproductive. Fully guaranteeing freedom of religion is a necessary first condition for any negotiations regarding Tibet," said the commission.

The official Web site of the 2008 Olympic Games says; "China is a country with religious freedom and respects every religion. Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Christianity are religions found in Beijing. Religious activities are carried out in Buddhist temples, Taoist temples, mosques and churches in Beijing."

Ecumenical News International