British Minister silent on human rights as he tip-toes out of Tibet

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Free Tibet is extremely disappointed at the failure of British Foreign Office Minister, Ivan Lewis, to make himself available for an open press conference to both the international and domestic Chinese media in Beijing today, following his visit to Tibet earlier this week.

Mr Lewis’s trip to Tibet was the first by a British minister since last year’s widespread protests and China’s violent crackdown; it therefore offered a crucial opportunity for the minister to publicly raise the British government’s concerns regarding China’s dismal and worsening human rights record in Tibet to both a domestic Chinese and international audience.

Instead, Free Tibet understands, a low-profile media briefing at the British Embassy in Beijing was organised at very short notice and was attended by only a very small group of journalists from British media outlets.

Before Mr Lewis left the UK, Free Tibet had urged the minister in a briefing to use the opportunity of his visit to Tibet to make a strong and public statement that reflected the dramatic worsening of the situation there. In the same briefing Free Tibet warned that in the absence of a strong statement of concern made to Chinese state and international media, the British government would risk being portrayed as sanctioning China’s Tibet policy.

Free Tibet contacted the press office of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London today and was told that Mr Lewis’s appearance before British journalists in Beijing today had been a media briefing for “background” purposes, rather than a full press conference. Free Tibet was also told that no transcript of the briefing was available.

Reacting to news of today’s low-level briefing in Beijing after a visit that offered great potential for the British government to raise its concerns in front of a wide media audience, Director of Free Tibet, Stephanie Brigden, said:

“By tip-toeing into and out of Tibet, and failing to make a strong and public statement of concern, Mr Lewis has done exactly what the Chinese government would have wished him to do. His failure to publicly single out human rights concerns represents a tacit endorsement of China’s Tibet policy and casts strong doubt on the British government’s professed claim that human rights concerns are integral to its engagement with China.”

Ends

Matt Whitticase, External Communications

t +44 (0)20 7324 4605 / +44 (0)7515 788456 and email: matt@freetibet.org

Stephanie Brigden, Director

t +44 (0)20 7324 4605 / +44 (0)7530 528264 and email: stephanie@freetibet.org