Tibetan poet undaunted as she takes on the might of China

Sat, Jul 26, 2008, 01:00

TIBET:Woeser is suing Chinese authorities to get a passport she applied for in 2003, writes Clifford Coonan.

"THE FIRST thing is that I am a writer. I write articles and books. Maybe the government does not like my words and is not satisfied with what I'm saying."

One of Tibet's most famous poets, Woeser, is doing something very unusual. She is a Tibetan woman living in China who is critical of the government, but has somehow managed to avoid public censure. Now she wants a passport, and she is taking legal action against the Beijing government to get it.

"For so long now, many Tibetan people have met difficulties applying for a passport. Some people will walk for a long time, climbing snow-capped mountains to arrive to Nepal to get their right as a citizen," she says.

"As a Tibetan, as far as I know, applying for a passport is always very difficult. In China, no matter whether you are Beijing people or Changchun people, it is always very easy and convenient for them to apply for a passport. The procedure is quite simple. After 15 days of their application, they will get a passport. But such an easy procedure is quite unbelievable for a Tibetan," she says, clearly frustrated at her predicament. She only uses one name, which is common among Tibetans.

The clampdown on Tibet has been one of the focal points for anti-Chinese sentiment around the world. Beijing says recent riots took 22 lives, but foreign activists claim they killed many times that number.

Woeser is a famous figure in Beijing and the best known blogger on Tibetan subjects in China. She is 42-years-old and slight, and very courageous.

She has worked tirelessly on the issues that affect Tibetans, and writes a blog on problems such as Aids, prostitution, destruction of the fragile Tibetan environment and the new railway that has become a focus for anti-Chinese sentiment.

"For the past three years, I made many phone calls [about her passport] to ask why. But the government did not give me any clear answer. They just did all they could to delay me," she says.

She believes that her request has a slight chance of acceptance, but is totally convinced it needs to be made.

Since the March riots against Chinese rule in Tibet, the political environment has been at best challenging.

Woeser is married to Wang Lixiong, a Chinese democracy activist and author, who comes from Changchun. "I applied for a passport in Lhasa in 2003. But the government did not approve my application. Then I married my husband, and my hukou [residence permit] was moved from Lhasa to Changchun where we now live," she explains.

Then, in May 2005, she applied for another passport, but 1,150 days later she awaits a response.

Woeser then made an application to the Changchun intermediate people's court seeking information on her case. To date she has not heard if they will accept her case, but she believes she has a good chance of at least being heard.

"I have got every reason to do this. Laws give every citizen the right to apply for a passport, and to sue if they suffer something unfair. What I am doing is proper and legitimate.

"If the court won't accept my lawsuit, it is totally unfair and unreasonable," she said.

China is angry about foreign reporting on the Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 1989 and is based in Dharamsala in northern India.

It says the Dalai Lama and his supporters are an evil clique, whereas he insists he is a moderate who preaches a "middle way", and seeks special autonomy for Tibet within China, not independence.

Tibetans remain fiercely loyal to the figure they regard as a god-king.

The Dalai Lama fled Lhasa in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, nine years after Communist troops entered the remote, mountainous region.

"My lawsuit is in accordance with the legal rights of citizens. From the legal point of view, I think I am confident about my success. But in the legal process, there are also many factors which can not only be decided by laws. So the result is hard to say. I am not sure that I will succeed."