April 18, 2006
The International Campaign for Tibet came down heavily on the exclusion of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, from the four-day meet that began Thursday in the eastern city of Hangzhou, saying the "world's most famous Buddhist" remained on Beijing's black list.
Condemning banning the Tibetan leader, "respected globally for his moral and religious authority", from the forum, Mary Beth Markey, executive director of ICT, said the meet looked "more like a session of the Party Congress except that the participants standing in perfect formation are wearing maroon and saffron robes".
ICT also criticised teenager Gyaltsen Norbu addressing the meet in the capacity of a senior Buddhist leader.
Deep controversy rages over Norbu, whom China installed as Tibet's 11th Panchen Lama after taking into custody the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama for the post.
Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the Dalai Lama's choice, was taken into custody in 1995 with his parents and his whereabouts are still not known. Die-hard Tibetans still revere the missing teen as the Panchen Lama and do not recognise Beijing's protégé.
Referring to Norbu's speech at the forum, where he said Chinese society provided a favourable environment for Buddhist belief, Markey said: "It's shameful that Beijing has scripted Gyaltsen Norbu, already considered by Tibetans as the 'fake Panchen', with statements that are clearly untrue about religious freedom in China."
"Beijing clearly hopes to convey a message of religious tolerance on the eve of Hu Jintao's US visit, where he will meet a US President who is particularly interested in the issue of religious freedom," she added.
Hundreds of monks and scholars from all over the world are visiting Hangzhou in Zhejiang province for the meeting, which concludes Sunday.
China said it did not want the Dalai Lama to "disharmonise" the forum.
Qi Xiaofei, vice-director of the state administration by religious affairs, was reported by the BBC as saying: "The Dalai Lama is not only a religious figure, but is also a long-time stubborn secessionist who has tried to split his Chinese motherland and break the unity among different ethnic groups."
This is not the first time that the Dalai Lama has been excluded
from an international Buddhist summit. He was not invited by Myanmar and Nepal,
countries close to China, who too hosted such meets in 2003-04.