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Pursuing Freedom: Democracy, Human Rights and the University’s “Dalai Lama Scandal”

There appears to be a tension between economic interests and freedom of speech. We see it in the daily influence of corporations’ ownership of the media. In early April, we saw it on our own home ground: the internationally renowned University of Sydney’s Institute for Democracy and Human Rights cancelled an event to be held with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in June. If an Institute for Democracy does not make a stand for democracy, who will?

The courageous Sophie Bouris, a student of Human Rights, and Stuart Rees, Chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation, were two of the many people who made a stand up in favour of freedom of speech, in favour of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama appearing. Stuart and Sophie were interviewed for the ABC 7.30 Report,

There was an international uproar over the university’s cowardly decision. The Foundation was approached to stage an event in its place. In conjunction with their Youth Peace Initiative, the Foundation agreed to organise a small event “Ethics for a Whole World”— His Holiness the Dalai Lama in conversation with Andrew West (of the ABC Religion and Ethics Report) to take place in the Theatrette of the NSW Parliament. Tickets were offered to supporters of the Foundation, the Tibetan community, and high school students. ABC’s Big Ideas TV will film the June 18 event so that the words of His Holiness will be heard by a wide audience.

After a rally at the university (see below), an online petition signed by over 14,000 people, the University of Sydney management team reversed their decision. The University of Sydney agreed to hold an event on 13 June solely for its students called “Education Matters”. There is also a petition being circulated within the University community requesting that the University Senate initiate an inquiry into the handling of the Dalai Lama affair.

Media coverage:

ABC 7:30 Report, 17 April 2013, University Shuts Down Dalai Lama Visit (TV segment and transcript)

Chinese Whispers the Dalai Lama and Sydney University, Honi Soit 31/4

Intellectual Freedom Under Threat at Sydney, New Matilda 18/4

Sydney University Buckles to Chinese Pressure, The Guardian 18/4

Australia University Accused of Bowing to China by Barring Dalai Lama, Reuters 18/4

Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune, Vex News 18/4

Sydney University Condemned for Banning Dalai Lama, Indymedia.org 18/4

The University of Sydney Calls Off Dalai Lama Speech, phayul.com 18/4

Dalai Lama to Speak at the University of Sydney, NY Times 29/4

Dalai Lama to Speak at University After All, Radio Free Asia 29/4

Fight for Academic Freedom Continues, Megaphone Oz 11/5

Uni Gets a Lesson on Vested Interests, New Matilda 24/5

University Backflips on Dalai Lama Visit, Honi Soit 2/5

Don’t Be Afraid to Tax and Spend, Honi Soit 25/4

Inside Job: Bejings New Allies in its War on Tibet, Huffington Post 30/5

The “no longer available” discussion thread about the Dalai Lama– Linked In  30/5

A video of a rally at the University of Sydney on 24 April:


“Freedom requires that the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or a well-fed cog in the machine.”—Erich Fromm (1964).