2017 STUDENTS FOR A FREE TIBET
YEAR IN REVIEW Introducing our New Executive Director In August 2017, Students for a Free Tibet’s (SFT) Board of Directors announced the appointment of Dorjee Tseten as the new Executive Director. Dorjee Tseten first joined the organization in 2010 as SFT India’s Campaigns Director, before being promoted to the role of SFT India’s National Director. Dorjee Tseten became part of the SFT international staff in 2013 when he took on the role of Asia Director. Last year, he was elected to serve as a member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile. Dorjee Tseten brings a wide range of skills, unique vision, and an unwavering commitment to the Tibetan freedom struggle. Born in a Tibetan refugee settlement in India, and educated in Gujarat, his activism and advocacy for Tibet have led him to travel the world where he has been a speaker, led trainings, met with global leaders, and taken part in nonviolent direct actions.
Free Tibet! Action Camp In 2017, SFT organized Free Tibet! Action Camps in Dusseldorf, Germany and Dharamsala, India. For the week-long camps, we welcomed movement leaders, workshop trainers, guest speakers, artists, volunteers, and an amazing group of participants from over 10 countries, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, India, Finland, France, Germany, Nepal, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and USA. Through trainings and discussions at Action Camp, we were able to engage participants on the strategies and tactics necessary to become stronger Tibet activists in
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their communities. The one-on-one interactions that Action Camp creates are an integral component to the strength, unity, and resilience of our organization.
Challenging Xi's Bloody Rule in Tibet On the eve of China’s 19th Party Congress, Tibetans and supporters around the world, including activists in Canada, India, Germany, USA, and UK, protested Xi Jinping’s 5 years of oppressive rule in Tibet. In Dharamsala, SFT, along with other leading Tibetan NGOs, released a joint statement to highlight the worsening situation in Tibet under Xi’s dictatorship. In New York, SFT activists staged a strong street action outside the Chinese Consulate featuring a giant bloodbath with several dead bodies to symbolize Xi’s flagrant rights abuses in Tibet during his first five-year-term. Through these actions and events, we sent a clear message to the international community that Xi Jinping is not the savior of the free world, but a dictator of the unfree world, and must be held fully accountable for the serious and outrageous crackdowns implemented across Tibet.
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Celebrating the Potala Palace
The Right to Raise the Tibetan Flag
This year, over 15 cities around the world commemorated February 13, Tibetan Independence Day, with ‘Celebrate Potala.' This theme marks the Potala Palace’s historical importance and highlights the Tibetan people’s vision for a free and democratic Tibet. Home to the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s independent government for centuries until China’s military invasion in 1959, the Potala Palace is an important symbol of Tibet. Today, the Chinese government uses the Potala Palace in tourist campaigns, as a means to bring revenue to themselves, and further commodify Tibetan historical artifacts and sites for their own gain. China is systematically destroying and suppressing the very community that is the source of such historic and cultural artifacts and monuments.
Campaign Against China's Propaganda
iCensor by Apple We’re not the only ones who think Apple is putting Tibetan lives at risk! Just one month after launching our campaign against Apple’s appalling decision to remove third-party VPN apps (a technology that creates a safe and encrypted connection) from its App Store in China, in a bipartisan action, U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Ted Cruz wrote an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook. This letter specifically raised concerns over how Apple’s decision may be supporting China’s censorship and surveillance of Tibetans, and demanded answers to 10 specific questions, including whether Apple has ever taken any action to stand up or speak out for Tibetans. When Apple received the Newseum’s 2017 Free Expression Award, they stated, “At Apple we are not just enabling others to speak up, we are doing so ourselves.” Senators Leahy and Cruz asked that Apple provide copies of any statements they have issued promoting freedom of speech in China or condemning the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance mechanisms. We are grateful to both U.S. senators for taking such bold action and helping us hold Apple accountable for its actions in China which aid Beijing’s efforts to clamp down on political dissent, and to lead to more Tibetans, and other innocent people, being disappeared or imprisoned for trying to access information or express themselves online. Students for a Free Tibet International
Kalsang Nangpa, a TibetanAmerican student and President of the SFT chapter at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, graduated in April of 2017. As part of the “Parade of Nations” segment of her university’s graduation, Kalsang was prepared to carry her national Tibetan flag, but after filling out the required application, she was told that Tibet was not a recognized country, and thus her flag would not be allowed during the parade. Hearing this, she took action and reached out to various departments at her school, and SFT's headquarters in New York for support. We were able to help her initiate a major media campaign, and within weeks, countless national and regional news media published and covered her story. In the end, although she was unable to receive permission to carry her flag during the official parade, she was able to carry it during the event when she went to receive her degree, reassured by dozens of family members, Tibetans, and supporters in the audience who also waved the Tibetan flag.
SFT Canada launched a campaign calling on the Toronto Transit Committee (TTC) to remove pro-China subway advertisements paid for by the Chinese embassy. There were multiple ads on the Toronto City Transit System depicting Tibet as a backward region modernized by China with the tagline “Old Culture, New Tibet.” By holding protests, phone call actions, and attending the TTC meeting, our team was able to expose the Chinese government’s attempts to spread their propaganda through Toronto’s subway system. SFT Canada was able to bring city-wide media and public attention to China’s lies, and make the TTC more accountable for their advertisements, which resulted in them promising to review their ad policy.
Tibet Advocacy at the United Nations SFT, as part of Tibet Advocacy Coalition, helped organize ‘Defenders in Detention’, and event where relatives of detained activists, including late Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s niece Nyima Lhamo, spoke on building the legacy of Liu Xiaobo. This event was attended by major state missions (including China’s) and human rights groups, including the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. SFT travelled to Geneva three times this year to highlight and directly confront China on
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political prisoner cases, like Rinpoche's and Tashi Wangchuk's. Our work at the UN resulted in High Commissioner Prince Zeid’s strong opening statement at the Council, stating that the deaths of Liu Xiaobo and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche “shocked many around the world”, and that other political prisoners in China are in various forms of deprivation of liberty on questionable grounds. He also urged China to include greater focus on their marginalized populations, such as Tibetans and Uyghurs, in their development work. This is exactly what we’ve been working towards—bold, precise actions that focus on Tibet.
Holding Xi Accountable In April, SFT organized a small group of Tibetans, who traveled over 1,000 miles from New York City to Palm Beach, Florida, to protest and expose Xi Jinping’s systematic repression during his first meeting with Trump as sitting President. While this closed-door meeting took place, and Xi Jinping was wined and dined, Tibetans in Tibet continued to suffer from China’s violent occupation. A combination of preparation and sheer determination, the group was able to garner support and media attention through slogans, signs, and an attention-grabbing satirical action prop of Xi Jinping’s head. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Tibetan Heroes Day: Tenzin Delek Rinpoche Medal of Courage The annual ‘Tenzin Delek Rinpoche Medal of Courage’ award is given to Tibetan human rights defenders who show deep commitment to enhancing the freedom and rights of the Tibetan people, even at great personal risk. The aim of the award is to provide protection to such individuals through international recognition. The award, presented on July 12, 2017, was conferred to Tashi Wangchuk. This year, SFT had the honor of organizing and hosting the second annual award ceremony, with the support of International Tibet Network at the NED conference hall in Washington, DC, capital of the United States of America. The event was joined by Congressman Jim McGovern, NED President Carl Gershman, and other notable guests. Students for a Free Tibet International
Nyima Lhamo, niece of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, said, “I am honored to see the ‘Tenzin Delek Rinpoche Medal of Courage’ awarded to Tashi Wangchuk today and I call for his immediate release. The Chinese government has a long history of harsh treatment of those who speak out against its failing policies. In 2015 my uncle died after spending over 13 unjust years in Chinese custody despite the fact that we had applied for medical parole, and today the world is watching how China is disdainfully treating Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo. The comparison of these cases shows just how little China learned from the tragic death of my uncle, and I appeal to the international community to firmly hold China accountable for the treatment of its critics.”
An Alliance for “Freedom, Democracy, and Self-Determination”
SFT organized the first ever Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan Roundtable Conference in Taipei, April 7-9, with the support of Human Rights Network for Tibet and Taiwan. This conference brought together 30 prominent Tibetan, Hong Konger, and Taiwanese movement leaders and youth activists to build a strategic alliance for freedom, democracy, and self-determination. Given the political changes taking place in China, and new threats and opportunities arising amid changing geopolitical circumstances, we believe it is critical for leaders of different movements to join forces and build a united alliance against a common threat—the CCP. The conference provides a unique platform for activists from these three movements to share skills and resources, and exchange stories and experiences of nonviolent resistance with each other. We plan to develop a long-term vision for coordination among the three movements, and devise strategies to safeguard the freedom, democracy, and human rights that are threatened, suppressed and violated by the CCP regime.
Letters for Freedom Arrested by the Chinese government for initiating a legal challenge to Beijing for its failure to protect the Tibetan language, January 2017 marked exactly one year of detention for Tibetan shopkeeper and language advocate Tashi Wangchuk. With an aim to complement our ongoing lobbying efforts for Tashi Wangchuk in various parliaments, and our advocacy at the UN, we started our postcard campaign as the public
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grassroots component of the Free Tashi Wangchuk Campaign. SFT approached various Tibetan Language Sunday Schools and asked them to write letters to Tashi Wangchuk, as part of the ‘Letters for Freedom’ action. Demonstrated by UN High Commissioner Prince Zeid expressing his concern for Tashi Wangchuk in his written statement on China during the Human Rights Council’s 36th session, Tashi Wangchuk’s case has become well-known amongst advocacy groups, multilateral forums, and foreign offices around the world, thanks to the efforts of all who have consistently pushed for his release.
human rights. This year, featured speakers and actions focused on Sri Lanka, Sudan, Honduras, the United States, and Tibet. Sonamtso, SFT's Communications Director, celebrated former political prisoner Khenpo Kartse’s release with the crowd, as last year many of the participants were there to advocate for his case, and shared information regarding demolitions at Larung Gar and political prisoners Tashi Wangchuk and Shokjang. Also there to speak on Tibet was former political prisoner Dhondup Wangchen’s youngest daughter and SFT member, Lhamo Dolma, who shared her personal testimony. The crowd was energetic and as always, this platform allowed young adults to learn more about Tibet’s current situation and directly take action afterward.
Nyima Lhamo USA Speaking Tour
SFT accompanied Nyima Lhamo on an inspiring and wellattended speaking tour across the USA, covering seven states. The events were organised by SFT, in collaboration with Tibetan Community Associations in their respective cities. During her talks, Nyima Lhamo was able to share her firsthand experience and the challenges her family and Tibetans in Tibet faced during the 13 years Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was imprisoned and after his death. She emphasized the importance of both engaging the government and protesting in public to hold China accountable for their imprisonment of political activists, human rights violations, and the ongoing crisis in Tibet. The talk was also instrumental in bringing Tibetans and Tibet-supporters together to re-emphasize China’s injustice and their involvement in the death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in detention.
Amnesty’s “Get on the Bus” “Get on the Bus” (GOTB) is an annual day of human rights education and activism. Now in its 22nd year, GOTB draws upwards of 1,200 participants, riding buses, commuter trains, and carpooling down to New York City to take nonviolent action in front of embassies, consulates and corporate headquarters in NYC in support of
In 2017, SFT hosted Momo Crawl in Toronto, Canada and New York, USA. Not only are Toronto and New York home to two of the largest populations of Tibetan and Himalayan communities in North America, but they are buzzing with food enthusiasts of all backgrounds. Through these events, we were able to introduce thousands of people to Tibet’s rich culture, giving us a platform to engage them on Tibet’s history and current status as one of the least free countries in the world.
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