Baku, April 7 – Chinese oppression in Tibet and Xinjiang have outraged many Russian human rights activists in the first case and Russia’s Muslim community in the second, even though the Russian government and the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church back what Beijing has been doing.
Last Thursday, a small group of Tibetans living in Moscow and Russian human rights activists organized a small demonstration in the Russian capital, and on Friday, another rights group staged a protest in St. Petersburg against Chinese oppression in Tibet.
In both cases, Russian officials first worked to block the meetings and then to prevent any media coverage. In Moscow, the authorities surrounded the protesters with 11 busloads of militiamen, and in the northern capital, officials banned the meeting and then kept it away from journalists covering the passing of the Olympic flame.
But in the age of the Internet and YouTube, the Russian government cannot prevent the story from getting out, often with dramatic pictures, even though Moscow officials can block coverage in the mass media from which most but no longer all Russians get their news.
While the Moscow demonstration received little or no attention in the mainstream media, it was featured in a story on the international religious affairs Internet portal Baznica (www.baznica.info/index.php?name=Pages&op=page&pid=4858) and, with pictures and video, on SaveTibet.ru (savetibet.ru/2008/04/03/moscow_tibet.html).
Visitors to these sites can read about or even clearly see both the small but brave gathering and the placards its members carried with legends like “End the Terror in Tibet,” “Freedom for Political prisoners in China,” and “End the Murder of [Tibet’s] Peaceful Residents.”
Yuliya Zhironkina, the editor of SaveTibet.ru, told Baznica that “in our view, the picket in Moscow, while it was kept as far from the Chinese embassy as possible, had enormous importance. It showed that Muscovites of various ages and professions are in fact not indifferent to the problems of Tibet.”
And their focus on the problems in that distant land, she said, will “hopefully inspire the residents of other regions [of Russia] to openly express their positions concerning the Tibetan crisis,” possibly over the weekend during the worldwide days of prayer for Tibet.
For his part, the Baznica journalist commented in his article that he was intrigued Russian citizens would be focusing so much of their attention on the violations of human rights in Tibet when there are so many violations of the exactly same rights far closer to home in their own country.
With regard to the demonstration in St. Petersburg against the Chinese, foreign journalists referred to it as part of their coverage of the passing of the Olympic torch through that city, precisely the kind of reporting Tibet’s supporters hope for. (For an example, see www.smh.com.au/news/world/olympic-flame-crosses-russias-imperial-capital/2008/04/05/1207249556697.html).
Meanwhile, Russia’s Muslims appear to be focusing their attention on Beijing’s charges that Muslims in Xinjiang (Eastern Turkestan) are planning an uprising and China’s reaction if anything even more brutal than in Tibet, actions Beijing believes it can get away with because of anti-Muslim attitudes in many countries of the world.
Drawing on reports from news agencies based in Muslim countries, Muslim Internet outlets in the Russian Federation have not only covered what China has been saying and doing but also condemning the Chinese for duplicity and oppression. (For examples, see islam.com.ua/news/4834/ and www.islam.ru/world/2008-04-04/#20513.)
But there was another demonstration in Moscow this weekend that does the Russian citizens who took part in it much honor. On Saturday, “Ekho Moskvy” reported, approximately 30 people assembled to remember Aleksandr Litvinenko, who spoke out against Putin’s repression in Chechnya and was killed as a result.
The demonstration’s chief goal, its organizers told the independent radio station, was “to protest against the [presumed] right of the president of Russia to kill [people living] abroad,” like Litvinenko who was dispatched in London by exposure to radioactive Polonium (http://grani.ru/Politics/Russia/activism/m.135306.html).