Tibet Will Be Free (the SFT Blog!)

WELCOME TO THE STUDENTS FOR A FREE TIBET BLOG--------> This is the weblog of the SFT Headquarters. Here you can peek into the minds (not to mention actions, events, trainings, brainstorms, parties...) of the SFT staff, board members, volunteers, friends and fellow activists. Tibet will be free.

We've Moved:

Tibet Will Be Free has moved off of this site because Blogger is owned by Google. Visit the new TIBET WILL BE FREE at blog.studentsforafreetibet.org

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Strange Encounters at Nonviolence Conference

Bethlehem, December 29
Yesterday was Day Two of the Celebrating Nonviolent Resistance conference in Bethlehem. Dr. Mubarak Awad (who spoke at SFT conference at Duke University in 2002) and other scholar-activists spoke to an international audience of about 300 people in a large, cold auditorium in the morning. The low temperature in the conference building and my jet lag joined forces to put me to sleep during the session. There were a few waking moments, during which I heard the inspiring Reverend Naim Ateek talk about Morally Responsible Investment. A group called Sabil has published a book that urges Western institutions to think twice before investing in companies that aid Israel's occupation of Paletinian territories. This immediately made me think about out own Boycott Made-in-China Campaign. What will it take to get it off the ground?
In the evening, Han and I headed over to a restaurant on Manger Street called "Restaurant and Coffee Shop," where we ate french fries and drank you know what. There was a huge television in the middle of the restaurant, which suddenly began to show - you will never guess what - Seven Years in Tibet!!!!!!! Yes, it's crazy! I like to believe that the restaurant owners knew it was my birthday and decided to give me a little surprise treatment.
Well, there is a plenary session starting right now where the Yoda of Nonviolence (also known as Gene Sharp) will be speaking. So I better sign off.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

from Bethlehem

It's early morning in Bethlehem (7:30 am, quite an unusual hour for me to be up at) and the city is slowly but noisily waking up to the day. Both Han and I are typing away at our computers in the hotel lobby although it's before coffee and barely after sunrise. Given the name of our hotel (Casa Nova), we might as well have been in the East Village, or Las Vegas.

But we're looking forward to the conference, which starts at 8:30am. Check out daily updates about the conference at the blog that Han has made (www.celebratingnv.blogspot.com).

Manger Square, Bethlehem

Sunday, December 18, 2005

BIG NY Times Article:

The Restless Children of the Dalai Lama

Today's New York Times Magazine has a long article on young Tibetan exile activists. The star of the article is poet, activist, and friend of SFT Tenzin Tsundue. I was glad to see such a long piece on the subject in such a high-profile venue. Pankaj Mishra's article is thoughtful and well-written and its portrayal of young Tibetan activists in India is very sympathetic.

Writing about Tenzin Tsundue:
He is always busy. Last spring, he helped organize a meeting in the town's central square to commemorate the victims of the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He recently finished work on a joint translation of a long poem by a Tibetan writer facing official disapproval in China. Unlike most activists, he doesn't offer a solution for every problem. Instead, he seems engaged in a long and uncertain quest - and this reflective manner is part of his charisma, what makes him attractive to young Indians and Tibetans. "The biggest question for us," he told me, "is what can we do? How do we find a solution to our dilemma? It is so easy to give up and invest all your faith in the Dalai Lama. We have to do something else. But what is it?"
Nonetheless, the article fails to express how strategic and visionary Tsundue and his compatriots are. Instead, it paints them as a brand new breed of questioning young people that are just waking up to the idea that the Dalai Lama can't be expected to shoulder the entire burden of the Tibetan cause. The article also fails to give much context outside of the position of the Tibetan Government in Exile and the state of the talks with the Chinese. It doesn't mention the growing unrest within China or describe the way the youth movement for Tibet is growing and solidifying around the world. It mentions the Tibetan Youth Congress, but not that there are chapters everywhere there are Tibetans. There's a photo of the SFT India office, with SFT India's National Coordinator Tenzin Choeying sitting right in the middle. But the caption just calls it the Tibetan exiles' "new office and library," failing to connect it to an international network of young people in dozens of countries around the world. The writer thoughtfully weighs a debate between Tsundue and Samdhong Rinpoche over Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance but he doesn't look forward, towards the Beijing 2008 Olympics when China will be under unprecedented scrutiny. Nor does he note the massive demographic changes taking place in Tibet, with China encouraging increasing numbers of Chinese to settle there, threatening to simply overwhelm the Tibetan people by making them a minority in their own country.

Then there are a handful of places where the writer completely misses the point. For instance:
"...whatever benefits the Chinese bring in the form of new roads, schools and regular jobs have so far failed to diminish the popularity of the Dalai Lama."
Well yes, it isn't just that the Tibetans have maintained their deeply Buddhist faith and culture in the face of the Chinese occupation - it's that the new roads (that help bring in Chinese troops and carry out natural resources), schools (where Tibetan children are indoctrinated with Chinese propaganda and forbidden from speaking their language) and regular jobs (taken by Chinese migrants) aren't "benefits" at all.
It's important for a writer to maintain focus in an article like this. But it's too focused on the supposed "novelty" of Tibetans daring to hold a different vision than the Dalai Lama. Most importantly, it fails to connect Tsundue's tireless activism to that of thousands of Tibetans and their supporters worldwide -- a global movement for Tibetan independence with which Tsundue closely coordinates. Congratulations to Tsundue for earning the coverage (he absolutely has) but let's make sure the faceless thousands of hard-working Tibet activists everywhere also get their deserved acclaim (and I don't mean to suggest that it's Tsundue's responsibility - it's all of ours).

I'm going to send an email to the NY Times Magazine's Editor [magazine@nytimes.com] to say "thanks for the coverage" but also to encourage them to explore this critical issue much further. There has been increasing coverage of unrest in totalitarian China and corruption and instability within the Chinese Communist Party. Let's try to keep the pressure on to make publications like the New York Times give better (and more!) coverage to Tibet as well. I've posted my letter to the editor as the first comment. Please post your letters as comments too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Crackdowns and the Decline of the CCP

For all the discussion of China's thriving economy and surging power in the international community there has been a major absence of discussion on China's internal legal and political structure. Despite major economic development, China remains a communist, totalitarian state with a single party. In most multi-party systems of governance the public tries to correct what they see as failures in government by voting an alternative party into power. The public in single-party states, on the other hand, can only change the whole government when they are dissatisfied. The Chinese Communist Party knows that there is no real avenue for change in their system. Recently a stream of events have occurred that makes one wonder: what the hell is going on in China?

China is cracking down on any possible avenues of dissent. One of the early examples from the last few weeks is the beating and detention of six priests and sixteen nuns in separate incidents. This was followed by the first known mass protest inside a monastery in the TAR by monks in over ten years. Up to 400 monks held a silent protest inside the Drepung Monastery in response to China's policy of "patriotic education" -- which includes forcing monks to swear allegiance to China and disavow loyalty to the Dalai Lama. China responded by detaining five monks and closing the monastery. The crackdown on religious groups also extended to the brutal rape of two Falun Gong practitioners by a police officer in Hebei Province. All of these incidents have occurred between November 18th and December 4th.

China also received major attention last week when police and military forces opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in Dongzhou.
The authorities have still not commented in any detail on the incident, in which villagers said as many as 20 residents of Dongzhou were shot and killed by security forces on Tuesday night as they protested plans for a power plant, in the deadliest use of force by Chinese authorities against ordinary citizens since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. Residents of Dongzhou said at least 42 people were missing.
The villagers were protesting the construction of a power plant, specifically the lack of government compensation for land seizures and the lack of safeguards for pollution that would come from the plant. What's worse, the Chinese government didn't allow media coverage of the massacre and denied the nature of the victims:
Later, a local television bulletin here said that three people had been killed in Dongzhou, and eight injured, describing them as “criminals” and giving no other details. This was the first known mention of the violence in China’s state-controlled media, and Beijing’s silence on the events underscored the vulnerability of a system that still practices heavy censorship in an age when sources of information beyond the government’s control are readily available.
While the violent crackdown on protests and religious freedom is shocking and evident, it is accompanied by a parallel effort to stop liberalization by forcing 30,000 NGOs to reapply for their permits by the end of the year. This is move is a bureaucratic means of closing organizations working to enhance the lives of Chinese citizens and provide oversite of the government.

The Chinese government is clearly feeling threatened more now than ever before. Their actions suggest that their hold over the country is slipping and the only response they have is to try to squeeze their people. Today's NY Times has a long article about Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer working to protect civil rights in China.

Now, the party has told him to cease and desist. The order to suspend his firm's operating license was expanded last week to include his personal permit to practice law. The authorities threatened to confiscate it by force if Mr. Gao fails to hand it over voluntarily by Wednesday.

Secret police now watch his home and follow him wherever he goes, he says.

He has become the most prominent in a string of outspoken lawyers facing persecution. One was jailed this summer while helping clients appeal the confiscation of their oil wells. A second was driven into exile last spring after he zealously defended a third lawyer, who was convicted of leaking state secrets.

Together, they have effectively put the rule of law itself on trial, with lawyers often acting as both plaintiffs and defendants.

"People across this country are awakening to their rights and seizing on the promise of the law," Mr. Gao says. "But you cannot be a rights lawyer in this country without becoming a rights case yourself."

The article makes brutally clear the extent to which Gao is fighting against the Communist Party. His attempts to protect the rights of Chinese citizens are met by forceful opposition by the government. China is trying as hard as it can to shut Gao down:

His resistance hardened. The Beijing Judicial Bureau handed him a list of cases and clients that were off limits, including Falun Gong, the Shaanxi oil case and a recent incident of political unrest in Taishi, a village in Guangdong. He refused to drop any of them, arguing that the bureau had no legal authority to dictate what cases he accepts or rejects.

This fall, he said, security agents have followed him constantly. He said his apartment courtyard has become a "plainclothes policeman's club," with up to 20 officers stationed outside.


"I'm not sure how much time I have left to conduct my work," Mr. Gao said. "But I will use every minute to expose the barbaric tactics of our leadership."

Gao has been ordered to return his licenspracticectise law. China's response to rule of law was to shout at the top of their lungs "No make it stop!" They seem close to stopping Gao, but thanks to the Times anything they do to him will be in full day light. Not that that's stopped them before (think Tiananmen).

All of this adds up to a disturbing picture of China's internal politics. Religious freedoms are being reduced and dissent is being met with violence and detentions. Despite the work of courageous lawyers, law is upheld only at the pleasure of the Communist Party. While maintaining a calm face to the world, China is imploding. The governments' responses have grown more drastic over the last month, as witnessed by the first mass shooting of demonstrators and the first mass silent protest inside Tibet in over ten years that we know of. I don't know where this is all heading, but it certainly looks like the Chinese government is truly fighting against the march of freedom and democracy for their people. Trade hasn't brought liberalization in China's government, but it has exposed the Chinese people to a greater notion of the freedoms they should have as human rights. In each instance we see the Chinese government pushing back hard at their people. The severity of their reaction is new and suggests that they are scared of something. It's intensely hard to get a clear picture of what that "something" is because of the level of censorship in the Chinese media, but change is afoot.

Crossposted at The Baltimore Group

Sunday, December 11, 2005


December 10, New York - Over 200 Tibetans, along with the usual supporters, commemorated the World Human Rights Day by marching across New York in a full-day rally organized by the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress (RTYC) of New York and New Jersey. The purpose of the rally was to raise concerns about the apalling human rights situation in Tibet and to urge the international community to pressure China to free Tibet.

The rally started at 10 AM at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, from where the colorfully dressed Tibetans - their chubas and the flags flapping in the wind - walked across the historic Brooklyn Bridge toward the United Nations, and finally to the Chinese Consulate. Along the way, the demonstrators passed thousands of onlookers in Chinatown and Times Square. The rally ended at 4:30 PM outside the Chinese Consulate, where the Tibetans thoroughly engaged in loud chanting of slogans, led by the chant leader Kusho Sonam Wangdu of RTYC.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sam and Laura's Blog

SFT BoDer Sam Chapin and his partner Laura are travelling in Nepal and India now. They've set up a blog with lots of great photos from their trip and details on their experiences.

Go check them out!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Candlelight Vigil @ Chinese Mission

Contrary to what the saying says, it's better to be seen AND heard. I promise you tonight the Chinese saw us and heard us outside of their Mission to the UN. Over sixty Tibetans and supports just finished braving sub-freezing temperatures outside of the Chinese Mission to let the Chinese know that the world will not stand China's continued oppression of free speech and religious freedom inside of Tibet.

Students for a Free Tibet, the Tibetan Youth Congress, and the Tibetan Women's Association coordinated a candlelight vigil calling for the release of imprisoned Drepung monks and the end to China's vicious "patriotic education" campaigns inside of Tibet. The vigil comes in response to last weeks' crackdown inside the Drepung Monastery following the silent protest by an unknown number of monks. Some reports have placed the number of monks involved in the protest as high as 400.

Our chants were often greeted by jeers from Chinese political hacks inside the mission. With every attempt by the Chinese to incite us to violence and photograph us, we redoubled the volume of our cheers. Before we left every window in the mission had to be shut to keep out cries of freedom for the Drepung monks and shame on the Chinese government. They couldn't stand hearing the voice of truth ringing through the corridors of their building.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Drivin' 4 a Free Tibet

SFT activist Rich Felker shows off the new "Friends of Tibet" Virginia license plate, complemented by bumper stickers. You are hardcore, Rich.