With the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall as a backdrop, 55 members of the Tibetan American community rallied Sunday morning for Tibet’s independence from China. Then, seven among them began marching with the goal of reaching the United Nation’s building in New York City on Saturday.

Next Sunday is Tibetan National Uprising Day, which will mark the 60th anniversary of China’s occupation of Tibet and Tibetans’ resistance, said Tashi Ngawang, one of the march organizers.

“We picked Philadelphia to start because this is the place where the Americans fought against the British to become an independent state. So, therefore, we consider this place to be very significant for the struggle for independence,” said Ngawang, who lives in New York.

Tsering Dekyi, who lives in Upper Darby, holding a Tibetan flag at Independence Mall on Sunday.
MARGO REED / Staff Photographer
Tsering Dekyi, who lives in Upper Darby, holding a Tibetan flag at Independence Mall on Sunday.

Before the marchers departed, the protesters — some wearing traditional Tibetan garments — prayed, sang, and listened to impassioned speeches for more than an hour. The U.S. and Tibet flags they hoisted fluttered in the chilly wind, drawing the attention of passing tourists and their cameras.

Kunga G. Norbu, the nephew of the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, traveled from his home in Indiana to march to New York. He said he is marching in memory of his departed brother and father — the Dalai Lama’s brother — and for all those in Tibet who are being oppressed by China.

“We need our country back. We do not need China. Tibet only for Tibetans,” he said.

Karma Phuntsho, of New York, said the Chinese killed his grandfather in 1959 and jailed his father in 2001. “In Tibet we have no right to practice our religion,” he said between sips of of Tibetan butter tea, which most of those gathered used to keep warm.

In addition to demanding that China ends its occupation of Tibet, the protesters also called for the release of all Tibetan political prisoners; more support from the U.S. government in their fight for Tibet’s Independence; and for United Nations officials and journalists to visit Tibet to investigate human rights violations

“We have a country but it has been occupied for 60 years,” Ngawang said. “We have our own language, our own traditions. That’s the proof of our independence.”

As the speeches began, several woman held a sign that read: Protest in Tibet Is a Crime That Cost Lives, Protest in the Free World Is a Basic Human Right.

“We have come to give some voice to the people living in Tibet. We don’t have freedom of religion. We don’t have speech rights. No political rights. We need help and we need support,” said Tenzin Shakya, a Philadelphia resident and president of the Tibetan Association of America.