Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

Why the Tibetans deserve all the support in the world
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I was intrigued and excited when an invitation dropped on to my mat inviting me to a do at Joanna Lumley's house to raise awareness for the continuing human-rights abuses in Tibet.

In 1959, the Chinese invaded Tibet, murdering 1.2 million of its citizens, and for the past 47 years has subjected the remainder to a brutal, repressive regime. The UK vaguely tuts yet continues to suck up to China. Ironically, the UK is not usually so shy to hold back when human rights are apparently at stake. Since 1959, we have been involved in military action in 17 countries, and in most cases, human rights were a much-cited excuse for such action, so it's outrageous that we haven't yet come to Tibet's aid.

Tibet would probably have dropped even further off the world's radar by now without Hollywood's support. People may sneer at celebrities using their position to draw attention to global atrocities - Richard Gere caused outrage for making anti-China comments at the 1993 Oscars - but in the case of Tibet, thank goodness they do.

I didn't spot Richard Gere at the Lumley soirée, but several eco-luminaries were there, including Jonathon Porritt (much taller than he appears on the telly and really quite handsome), my friend Hugo, a former Green Party chairman (quite tall and fairly handsome if you like that sort of thing), and Joanna Lumley, as svelte and glamorous as ever.

Joanna introduced Namdrol Lhamo and Gyaltsen Drolkar, two Tibetan nuns who, after a peaceful protest, were tortured and locked up in Drapchi prison in Lhasa for 12 years. Although they told their stories dispassionately and quietly, the horror of the regime from which they had escaped was only too clear.

There are, however, glimmers of hope. Due to the Olympics being held in Beijing in 2008, the spotlight is increasingly shining on Tibet. Recently, Wangpo Tethong, co-ordinator of the International Tibet Support Network's Olympic Campaign, staged a rare protest in Tiananmen Square, with a banner saying, "Hu, You Can't Stop Us - 2008-FreeTibet.org" in front of the Olympic countdown clock. Luckily, he cycled off too quickly to be caught.

This brave demonstration was the first of its kind by a Tibetan in Beijing, and is a sign of things to come if China does not solve the Tibetan issue before August 2008. The continuing destruction of Tibetan culture is heartbreaking. In a recent television programme, Michael Palin visited the Potala Palace and I winced as he cheerfully interviewed a brainwashed Tibetan about life in the brave new Tibet. "The Chinese are wonderful to us," smiled the Stepford Tibetan, but you could see the bleak reality in his eyes and imagine the Chinese mandarins pulling his strings as he spoke.

In 2002, I lived in Kathmandu, where many Tibetans now reside in exile. There, one gets a glimpse of the Tibetans' spirit and culture, so brutally suppressed in their native land. While there, I went to Dharamsala, in northern India, and stayed in Richard Gere's hotel. Dharamsala village was crowded and scruffy. The streams were full of rubbish because there was no proper collections; there were water and food shortages, and power cuts every night. Yet it was safe, vibrant and extraordinary. The Tibetans that I met yearned for home yet cheerfully got on with life.

In the West, the Dalai Lama inspires vague spiritual feelings but this doesn't translate into useful action. Endless round-robin e-mails are sent in the Dalai Lama's name - nonsense like: "This comes from the Dalai Lama. Send it to 10 people and receive boundless good fortune". Do the Dalai Lama a favour: delete these and join Free Tibet instead.

www.freetibet.org; 020-7324 4605