Tibetans demonstrate against Xi Jinping’s Swiss state visit

Over 400 Tibetan demonstrators protested on Sunday morning against the Swiss state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Swiss capital Bern. They were not allowed to protest in front of the Swiss parliament.

This content was published on January 15, 2017 - 18:53

Unlike in 1999 during President Jiang Zemin's visit, demonstrators were only allowed to protest a few hundred metres from the parliament, away from the gaze of Chinese dignitaries. In 1999, Tibetan sympathisers unfurled “Free Tibet” banners in front of the Swiss parliament square. Their actions angered Jiang, who later told the Swiss government that they had “lost a good friend”.

Swiss parliamentarian and Green Party President Regula Rytz, spoke at the Tibetan gathering and asked the Swiss government to use Xi's visit to address the human rights situation in Tibet and China.

“Bern’s decision to only allow a demonstration away from the view of the Chinese delegation must be viewed as a critical restriction on free speech and assembly rights,” Amnesty International said in a statement. 

A few protesters who tried to demonstrate in front of the Swiss parliament were escorted away by the police. Some 32 activists were arrested in total, according to a statementExternal link (in German) from Bern cantonal police, who confirmed that a man who poured flammable liquid on himself was apprehended. He was not injured but taken to a hospital as a security measure. It is estimated that around 145 cases of self-immolation by Tibetans as a protest gesture are known.

Tibetans in Switzerland

Switzerland is said to have Europe’s largest Tibetan community. The organisation representing exiled TibetansExternal link counts 3,500 members and there are believed to be a few thousand more Tibetans in the country, or people with Tibetan roots. 

The first Tibetan refugees entered Switzerland in 1960, with a large number – about 1,000 in all – arriving three years later. These Tibetans became the country’s first non-European refugees. 

Their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has paid many visits to Switzerland, the last time in October. Although he was not received by anyone from the federal government last year, he did meet with members of the Swiss cabinet during previous visits in 2005, 2001 and a couple times in the 1990s.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is in the middle of a state visit to Switzerland. During his two-day trip, he is scheduled to spend time in the Swiss capital Bern, the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, the UN in Geneva and the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne.

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