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Taiwan prevented Tibetan leader, Uighur activists from religious freedom forum

Sikyong Lobsang Sangay
Sikyong Lobsang Sangay

(TibetanReview.net, Feb21’16) – Taiwanese authorities were reported to have asked the executive head of the exile Tibetan administration based in India and exiled Uighur activists Rebiya Kadeer and Dolkun Isa not to apply for visas to attend a forum on religious freedom held in Taipei on Feb 18 because their presence might irritate mainland China’s Communist leaders, reported latimes.com Feb 19, citing the event’s sponsors. The Forum opened with 99 participants from 26 countries.

The report cited Bob Fu, the founder of China Aid, an American nonprofit that co-sponsored the forum, as saying US-based representatives of Taiwan’s government had in Dec 2015 persuaded Rebiya Kadeer and Lobsang Sangay not to apply for visas. “To talk about China’s religious freedom situation, if you don’t mention the Tibetan and Uighur minorities, a discussion of religious freedoms is incomplete,” Fu was quoted as saying from the forum. And he felt, “The whole application process feels political.”

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry and immigration agency has claimed it had no information about what the country’s offices in the United States might have told potential visa applicants. “We have no way to comment; all we do is process the visas,” a National Immigration Agency spokesperson was quoted as saying.

But the report noted that in early February, a foundation in Taipei representing the Dalai Lama had said it too was told by Taiwanese officials that Sangay should avoid the forum. While declining to say which official agency had contacted him about it, Bari Dawa Tsering, director of the Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has said, “Taiwan is small and right next to China, so their stance is not to add any new trouble.”

Taiwan’s outgoing president Ma Ying-jeou who belongs to the pro-China Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, has let Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, visit the country only once during his two terms in office. The Dalai Lama visited the country in 2009 to console survivors and pray for the victims of a typhoon that sparked serious mudslides and killed about 700 people. At that time China warned Taiwan that the visit could damage relations. But the two sides later went on to sign a series of landmark economic pacts.

Ma’s Nationalist Party roundly lost both the presidential and parliamentary elections in January. He will be replaced by Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-inclined Democratic Progressive Party in May.

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