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Tokyo: The Tibetan writer and translator Mr Kunthar, who lives in Dharamshala, north India, this week addressed the 76th International PEN Congress in Tokyo, Japan. Beginning on September 23, the week-long conference was held at Waseda University, with the theme of The Environment and Literature – What Can Words Do?

Mr Gao Xingjian, a Chinese Nobel literature laureate, opened the conference, which was attended by around 600 writers from 128 countries. The participants then divided into several committees to discuss freedom of thought and writing.

Mr Kunthar, who joined the Writers in Prison committee, spoke on the arrest and torture of more than 40 Tibetan writers and intellectuals since the March 2008 uprising in Tibet. He said many Tibetan writers spoke out against the brutal suppression of the peaceful demonstrations, urging the Chinese government to resolve the matter through dialogue.

"But the Chinese authorities labeled these writers as separatists and rebels,” he continued, “and silenced them in various prisons under false charges. What the Tibetan writers did was the implementation of the 'right to speech and expression', as enshrined in the Chinese constitution…By arresting and torturing the Tibetan writers, the government is violating the nation's law."

Speaking to the Translation and Linguistic Rights committee, Mr Kunthar addressed the critical condition in which the Tibetan language now stands, saying, "China, in its efforts to ‘Sinicize’ the Tibetan region, has made Tibetan a second language…Most of the streets and lanes are named in Chinese language. Most of the mountains and rivers of Tibet have been renamed in Chinese. This policy of destroying Tibetan language and imposing Chinese is posing a great threat to Tibetan language."

The conference’s many participants of Chinese origin – some from mainland China - expressed their agreement with Mr Kunthar but emphasised that freedom of speech and expression is denied not only in Tibet, but across China, and that a joint concerted effort is needed to make the communist government listen to the people.

Mr Kunthar said the conference had been very educative and he felt strong support from its members for the struggle for peace and freedom in Tibet. He added that he was pleased to meet many Chinese intellectuals, who spoke very frankly, and that he had been able to share with them the essence of His Holiness’ middle-way approach.

Mr Kunthar is vice-chairman of Dharamsala PEN. His work includes a translation of Gangseng Kyi Ngardra – the Tibetan writer Ms Woser’s account of the March 2008 uprising – and translations of three of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s works into Chinese.

For more information on International PEN, visit http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/

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