Tibet is an occupied country. This is the most important fact to remember when working for Tibetan freedom. We are not simply working for human rights or religious freedom in Tibet, we are working to free a nation from a illegal and brutal foreign occupation. At the time when Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1949, Tibet was an independent nation. Tibet had its own government, its own language, its own currency, its own postal system and its own legal system. When we say “Free Tibet” we don’t just mean, “Make things better in Tibet.” We mean “Free the nation of Tibet from Chinese occupation.”
China’s People’s Liberation Army took Tibet by force. When Chairman Mao came to power in 1949, one of the first things he did was send his troops to annex Tibet. Tibet did not have a large or well-equipped army. While there was a determined armed resistance to the Chinese invasion, the relatively small Tibetan army was eventually crushed by the Chinese army. An agreement was imposed on the Tibetan government in May of 1951, acknowledging sovereignty over Tibet but recognizing the Tibetan government’s autonomy with respect to Tibet’s internal affairs. As the Chinese consolidated their control, they repeatedly violated the treaty and open resistance to their rule grew.
By 1959, the situation had become dire in Tibet. Thousands of Tibetan refugees poured into western Tibet from the east, where Tibetan resistance fighters were engaged in open battle with the Chinese army. Massive demonstrations broke out in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, when rumors that the Dalai Lama’s life was in danger began to circulate. Tenzin Gyatso, Tibet’s 14th Dalai Lama, is the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. In 1959, he was only 24 years old. On March 10th 1959, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans massed around the Norbulingka Palace, the Dalai Lama’s summer residence, to prevent him from attending an event to which the Chinese authorities had invited him. They feared he might be killed secretively. The demonstrators called for Tibetan independence and for Chinese forces to leave Tibet. When the situation became tense, the Dalai Lama fled under cover of darkness on March 17, 1959 to India, where he has lived since. Tens of thousands of Tibetans were killed by Chinese forces who broke up the mass protests.
Since 1959, Tibet has been solely under Chinese rule. The Tibetan people both inside Tibet and in exile long for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet to resume his rightful place as Tibet’s leader.
While the ultimate goal of Students for a Free Tibet is to help Tibetans regain their independent nation, we also work hard to end the atrocious violations of the Tibetan people’s political, religious, cultural, social and economic rights by the Chinese government. However, it is important to bear in mind that we work in solidarity with the Tibetan people, who continue to struggle for the restoration of their country Tibet.
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