Below is the talk I gave at the Geneva Summit earlier this week. I was speaking on the panel titled “After Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize: the Situation of Human Rights in China” and there is a video of the session online on www.genevasummit.org I can’t work out how to embed that video into this post! I am adding links into the text for those who wish to find out more!
Dechen Pemba at the Geneva Summit, March 15, 2011
My name is Dechen Pemba. I am a UK born Tibetan and I am the editor of High Peaks Pure Earth, a website that monitors Tibetan blogs and translates online writings by Tibetans in Tibet and the People’s Republic of China from Tibetan or Chinese into English.
Most of my working life has been dedicated in some way to advancing the issue of Tibet. In 2002, I was a volunteer translator for two Tibetan nuns who were political prisoners in Tibet for a six month European and US tour organised by Amnesty International. I also worked for almost 4 years for the International Campaign for Tibet Germany as a full-time campaigner, working on many human rights issues such as highlighting the cases of Tibetan political prisoners, for example the Panchen Lama who has been missing along with his family since 1995, and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a high profile monk in eastern Tibet who was targeted, framed and sentenced to death by the Chinese government. Due to mass campaigning and lobbying, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s deathsentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Despite working full time on Tibetan issues, I felt that it was necessary to understand China in order to gain an insight into the situation on the ground in Tibet today. Therefore I decided to move to Beijing in 2006 to learn Chinese at the Central University for Nationalities. I lived in Beijing until 2008, during which time I was able to travel to Tibet several times. As everyone here will be aware of, Tibet erupted in widespread protests against Chinese rule just over 3 years ago, starting in Lhasa on March 10, 2008. For several months afterwards, the whole of Tibet was a media black hole, no foreign journalists or tourists were allowed to travel in and the whole area was under military lockdown. Despite promises of media freedom by the Chinese government in the lead up period to the Olympic Games in August 2008, these promises were not kept in Tibet’s case.
Even though it has been over 3 years since those mass protests, the situation on the ground today has not improved. Recently, just prior to the 3 year anniversary of the protests, a travel ban was imposed on the Tibet Autonomous Region on March 7, 2011, restricting foreigners from travelling there, including media. Radio Free Asia reported on February 25, 2011, that police in Lhasa were cracking down on banned songs, searching mobile phones for mp3s deemed “reactionary”. According to a Tibetan in Lhasa:
“If someone has this [type of] song [on their mobile phone], they are detained, jailed from 10 to 15 days, heavily fined, and even brutally beaten”.
Despite this fierce crackdown all over Tibet, protests have not stopped, Tibetans continued to protest to voice their grievances throughout 2009 and 2010 against specific issues, for example in May 2009 a peaceful protest by Tibetans in Kardze Prefecture of Sichuan province against the construction of a hydroelectric dam leading to displacement of tens of thousands of local Tibetans was forcibly broken up by police with six people injured.
In August 2010, at least four Tibetans were killed and 30 injured when police officers opened fire on a crowd outside the Palyul county government offices in Kardze Prefecture. Local Tibetans were protesting the expansion of a gold mining operation damaging to the environment.
Most recently in October 2010, thousands of students in Eastern Tibet took to the streets in support of Tibetan language and against a new policy that would increase Chinese-language medium teaching and undermine Tibetan language study.
Since 2008, Tibetans have faced severe punishment for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression. According to the International Campaign for Tibet, more than 50 Tibetans, including 13 writers, involved in the arts and public sphere are either in prison, have been ‘disappeared’ or have faced torture or harassment for expressing their views.
Under the circumstances, Tibetans today are finding new ways to assert their identity and resist passively, such as refusing to celebrate Losar, Tibetan New Year, in 2009, out of respect to all those who died in 2008. Tibetans are also engaged in strategic nonviolent resistance, a new movement called “Lhakar” is underway currently. Lhakar literally translates as “White Wednesday” and it is considered an auspicious day as it’s the soul day of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. A growing number of Tibetans are making a special effort to wear traditional clothes, speak Tibetan, eat in Tibetan restaurants and buy from Tibetan-owned businesses every Wednesday.
My work today with High Peaks Pure Earth is dedicated to supporting Tibetan voices from inside Tibet and the PRC. Tibetans are fully capable of speaking for themselves and their voices are often eloquent and extremely courageous. It is important for these voices to be heard, amplified and represented. New media has afforded many new opportunities for communication and exchange between Tibetans and the outside world but not without risk. Blogs, social networking sites, SMS and microblogs are all being used by Tibetans as a forum for expression. The most well-known figure using these new technologies is Tibetan writer, poet and blogger Woeser. Woeser’s blog is regularly translated from Chinese into English by High Peaks Pure Earth and hers is a rare bold Tibetan voice coming directly out of the PRC today. Woeser is using her blog and social media such as Twitter to make the true feelings and situation of Tibetans in the PRC today known, fort his she has been placed under house arrest and harrassed by the police several times. Her blogs, Skype, email and Twitter have been hacked several times by Chinese nationalists.
The Chinese government fear free exchange between their citizens, especially between Tibetans. It is no coincidence therefore that prior to March 10 last week, a prominent Tibetan social networking site MyBudala was inaccessible along with Tibetan language blog-hosting sites DobumNet and Sangdhor. These sites are still down today.
Finally, I would like to draw attention to the following cases of human rights violations related to freedom of expression:
Sentenced to 6 years in prison in December 2009 for making the documentary film “Leaving Fear Behind” that interviewed Tibetans about their feelings towards Tibet, China and the Olympic Games. Dhondup Wangchen was detained and tried in secret, two sets of Chinese human rights lawyers were barred from representing him. He is currently in Xichuan Labour Camp in China’s Qinghai province. He has contracted Hepatitis B in prison and is receiving no medical treatment.
Both NGO workers, Wangdu and Migmar Dhondup were accused in December 2008 of collecting “intelligence concerning the security and interestsof the state and provid[ing] it to the Dalai clique…prior to and following the ‘March 14’ incident”. Wangdu received a life sentence and Migmar Dhondup a sentence of 14 years.
Female cadre and writer from Ngaba, eastern Tibet. The exact details of the charges against her are not known, but she was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison on November 3, 2008 for passing news through the phone and internet about the situation in Tibet to the outside world.