Tibet unrest - mountaineers must be more honest, says human rights group.

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities

As unrest continues in eastern districts of Tibet, human rights group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) has asked the UK's Alpine Club to urge mountaineers to report honestly and responsibly on places that they visit. SACC says that mountaineers must avoid concealing the fact that some mountains in China that are popular with climbers are in fact situated within the area claimed as Tibet by the exile Tibetan administration in Dharamshala, India. The group is highly critical of publicity recently circulated by the Alpine Club for a planned symposium on mountaineering in China.

The sharply-worded message comes days after a young Tibetan monk from Kirti Monastery set fire to himself in the eastern Tibetan town of Aba (Ngaba in Tibetan) - the 4th such case this year.

Aba is the administrative centre of the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province, China. The area was absorbed into China's Sichuan Province after China's 1950 invasion of Tibet. This arrangement has detached it from central parts of Tibet, which have become the Chinese-ruled Tibet Autonomous Region. But the Tibetan prefectures of Sichuan are still claimed as part of Tibet by the exile administration, and many people there still regard themsleves as Tibetan and still try to follow the Buddhist religion. These areas were a major focus of protest during the 2008 Tibetan uprising. They have been the scenes of further unrest in recent months and also, inevitably, of human rights violations by the Chinese authorities.

The north face of Siguniang, in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, was first climbed in 2002 by Paul Ramsden and Mick Fowler, now the new President of the Alpine Club. The ascent will be the subject of a talk at Alpine Club's symposium - but the words Tibet and Tibetan don't appear anywhere in the Alpine Club's programme for the event.

Another highlight of the symposium will be a presentation of the ascent last year by climbers Kyle Dempster and Bruce Normand of the notoriously dangerous east face of Mt Edgar in the Gongga Shan mountains of Ganzi (Kardze, in Tibetan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province. This area has also been the scene of recent Tibetan unrest.

Alpine Club President Mick Fowler said in a recent interview in Climb magazine that the club's symposium is being held "with the intention of sharing experiences and increasing awareness of the fantastic mountaineering potential of China outside Tibet."

In its open letter to Mick Fowler, SACC says:

"It won't do to give the label "China outside Tibet" to places that are barely outside Tibet even to the Chinese Government (or why would they have set up Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures?) and are firmly inside Tibet in the view of Tibetan people. "

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC says:

"The Chinese Government would probably like to airbrush the eastern parts of Tibet out of Tibet altogether. The Alpine Club isn't just helping them, it's carrying the re-branding even further than the Chinese authorities themselves take it. Mick Fowler's fearlessness in the mountains is legendary. He needs to be equally fearless in dealing with the Chinese authorities

"Tibet's political difficulties won't be solved unless they are properly understood around the world. Tourism of all kinds - including mountaineering - is growing rapidly in western China and eastern Tibet. The resulting exchange of ideas and experience could be of great benefit to everyone. That won't happen if visitors censor themselves and spread misunderstanding. Climbing expeditions that report misleadingly on where they have been and what's happening there are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

"The Alpine Club isn't alone in promoting a misleading picture of eastern Tibet. The same gaps are to be found in many reports of climbing expeditions to the area.

"Climbers, their sponsors and the climbing media need to sharpen their act up."

Read the full text of SACC's open letter aboutMountaineering in Tibet and China

Background about the Himalaya