Tibet Action Institute Launches

The Tibet Action Institute has officially launched as a special project of Students for a Free Tibet, on whose Board of Directors I serve. From the email announcing Tibet Action:

From Tunisia to Egypt, Yemen to Bahrain, the past six weeks have shown the tremendous power of strategic nonviolent resistance – particularly when combined with new online technologies – to change authoritarian governments and bring an end to repression. This is a remarkable moment to be able to announce the launch of the Tibet Action Institute (https://tibetaction.net) – a special project of Students for a Free Tibet that provides open-source technology, training and strategy to Tibetans to help advance our nonviolent struggle for freedom.

Since stepping down as Students for a Free Tibet’s Executive Director in 2009, I have been spearheading the formation of the Tibet Action Institute, along with Nathan Freitas, SFT’s chief technologist during the 2008 Olympics campaign and a remarkable technology innovator, and more recently, Freya Putt, former campaigns director of SFT and former Olympics campaign coordinator for the International Tibet Support Network.

The 2008 Tibetan Uprising showed us all the incredible power Tibetans can have when we utilize the Internet, mobile and other new technologies in our freedom struggle. At the same time, we have seen the painful consequences these same tools can have for the Tibetans inside Tibet who dare to use them.

The Tibet Action Institute trains Tibetans everywhere in how to use information and communication technologies to be more safe, secure, and effective. We also offer training in the art and methods of nonviolent resistance in order to employ effective strategies, campaigns, and innovative technologies to overcome occupation and oppression.

The Tibet Action website with multi-lingual training videos, tech security tips, and the best of strategic nonviolence literature – including the guides that played an instrumental role in Egypt and Tunisia – is live now:


You can also learn about efforts like the Guardian Project, which provides mobile phone technology to help activists communicate more safely and securely, and the Tibet Crisis Map, a crowd-sourced map of the true geography of Tibet. More content will be coming soon.

Our small team, along with SFT’s board and staff, is continually inspired and motivated by the courageous acts of resistance occurring daily inside Tibet, and – against a backdrop of global revolution and successful grassroots people’s movements – we are thinking big for Tibet.

We know it’s not a matter of if, but rather a question of when and how change will come to Tibet. We want to make sure our movement is ready.

The Tibet Action Institute envisions a world where Tibetans inside Tibet are engaging in powerful noncooperation and civil resistance campaigns and employing simple and creative technologies in bringing about an end to China’s occupation. We look forward to working with you, and supporters everywhere, to make that vision a reality.

In solidarity,

Lhadon Tethong
Director, Tibet Action Institute

Civil Resistance in Tibet

Matteo Pistono has a good piece in the Washington Post about the subtle acts of civil resistance Tibetans inside of Tibet have been taking. Pistono writes:

While authorities and security personnel in Lhasa on July 6, and other dates, keep a keen eye open and the detention cells ready for use, a quiet event occurs every Wednesday. On that day, Tibetans across Tibet and in particular in Lhasa carry out intensive popular religious practices, more than on any other day of the week. These include devotional practices such as circumambulating and prostrating in front of the Potala and Jokhang temples, making offerings of burning juniper incense, pouring libations in traditional vessels in front of the Tibet’s protector deity, Palden Lhamo, and tossing barley flour into the air. Why Wednesday? According to the complex Tibetan astrological calendar, the Dalai Lama’s birth sign falls on that day. As with many days in the Tibetan calendar that are deemed to be auspicious, pious and devoted behavior is believed to carry special weight on these days.

This unorganized yet massive expression of devotion to the Dalai Lama that is evident on Wednesdays took place in a similar fashion before the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959. But because of the political climate now and the volatility that surrounds the figure of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, according to elderly Lhasa residents, the Wednesday observances are carried out with even more vigor than before 1959. When asked about the possibility of police questioning prompted by these observances a 65-year-old Tibetan man responded, “What do you think, will they ban Wednesdays?”

Though he doesn’t cite it by name, this civil resistance and identity strengthening campaign is called Lhakar.  A simple definition is:

Lhakar is a homegrown people’s movement that has emerged in Tibet. In spite of China’s intensified crackdown, Tibetans have embraced the power of strategic nonviolent resistance. Every Wednesday, a growing number of Tibetans are making special effort to wear traditional clothes, speak Tibetan, eat in Tibetan restaurants and buy from Tibetan-owned businesses.

This activism has happened organically, originating inside of Tibet. Exiled Tibetans are taking part too and Lhakar is becoming a major nexus for activism for Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet.

Chinese Govt “Scared to Death” of Nancy Pelosi

Well, this is kinda fun:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit to Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked China to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

“She had the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) scared to death on the eve of her visit,” Ambassador Cheng Guoping was quoted as saying in the classified memo by US Ambassador Richard Hoagland.

While it isn’t surprising that the Chinese government is scared of a political leader who they can’t just throw in jail or disappear, it’s pretty hilarious the extent to which they are scared of Speaker Pelosi. I mean, a Chinese ambassador is writing memos to an American ambassador throwing around terms like “scared to death.”

This is less serious a revelation than the earlier ones wherein the Chinese Politburo was cited as being responsible for hacking into US government, Tibetan Government-in-Exile, Google, and other Western tech companies’ computers. Neither this nor the Chinese government’s fear of Pelosi are surprising. But at least these facts are confirmed in US diplomatic cables.

Woeser’s Courage in Journalism Award Speech

The International Women’s Media Foundation recently awarded the Tibetan blogger, poet and dissident Woeser their 2010 Courage in Journalism Award. While Woeser was denied a passport by the Chinese government and unable to attend, she sent an acceptance speech, which High Peaks Pure Earth has posted. She tells the story of her rise to prominence, particularly around the 2008 Tibetan national uprising and the violent crackdown by the Chinese government that followed it, including a near-total media blackout. It’s a reminder of her heroic efforts to tell the world what was happening inside Tibet, at great personal risk and facing intense intimidation from authorities.

But her writing on the role she plays more broadly and where things currently stand for Tibet is even more powerful:

I am not really a journalist or media person in the traditional sense. In this Age of the Internet, I have taken my books, my blog, my regular commentaries for radio, Twitter, and Facebook — as well as a camera, a camcorder, and the interviews I give reporters — and
combined them into a new medium: a one-person medium. I began deliberately using this approach in March of 2008. At that time, protests which had spread across Tibet were being violently suppressed, but the Chinese government was using its monopoly on information to make sure people could hear only its distorted account, blasted at high volume. The might of this world was asserting its power over the facts, and I realized that unless I could find some way, working by myself, to record what was happening and get the news out, the anguish of an entire people would vanish forever behind a veil of darkness. History would be rewritten; memories would be buried; our descendants would never know the sacrifices their ancestors had made.

Even now, every kind of inhumanity and injustice is still being visited upon Tibet. Many outstanding people, innocent people, have been arrested and sentenced and are suffering unimaginable torment. I will keep my one-person media operation going, for it is the weapon of the powerless. To be sure, this weapon consists of the written word; it rests on principles of nonviolence and noncooperation; it draws its energy from our religion, traditions, and culture, as well as the broken condition to which we have been reduced; these provide the strength with which we resist oppression and are the reason why I will never give up or compromise. The support that comes in from every side, including from you, is a lasting source of my courage.

Definitely give the whole speech a read.

Chinese Govt Is Scared of Liu


Official mainland Chinese-language mouthpieces have launched a campaign criticising the Norwegian Nobel Committee for awarding the Peace Prize to prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo on October 8.
Xinhua, the official news agency, attacked the Nobel committee yesterday for ignoring China’s human rights development by honouring “convicted Chinese criminal Liu Xiaobo”.

Previously the campaign was confined to English-language media targeting foreign audiences; most Chinese-language media had been silent about the award, except for short articles quoting statements made by the foreign ministry.

In one of its first commentaries since Liu was honoured, Xinhua, a mouthpiece for Beijing leaders, argued yesterday that the Communist Party had made “unremitting efforts to promote and safeguard human rights”. In an unsigned editorial it asked: “In what ways have Liu’s actions contributed to human rights progress for China’s 1.3 billion people?”

The People’s Daily, published by the party, said yesterday – in one of the first Chinese-language editorials reacting to the prize – that this year’s award strayed from the ideals of the Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s one thing for the Chinese government to attack Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize win in English and to foreign audiences. That’s what they usually do when people bring up human rights. Standard Operating Procedure for the Chinese government is that while they do this internationally, they totally ignore the subject in the Chinese language press, such as it is, and censor references to the controversial subject matter. But in this case, the Chinese government is running an internal, Chinese language campaign against Liu Xiaobo. They are clearly terrified of what support for his Nobel Peace Prize win would do if it was widespread within China. The government is scared of Liu and they’re showing it.

Krugman on China

Paul Krugman is must-read today on China qua rogue economic superpower:

China’s response to the trawler incident is, I’m sorry to say, further evidence that the world’s newest economic superpower isn’t prepared to assume the responsibilities that go with that status.

Major economic powers, realizing that they have an important stake in the international system, are normally very hesitant about resorting to economic warfare, even in the face of severe provocation — witness the way U.S. policy makers have agonized and temporized over what to do about China’s grossly protectionist exchange-rate policy. China, however, showed no hesitation at all about using its trade muscle to get its way in a political dispute, in clear — if denied — violation of international trade law.

Couple the rare earth story with China’s behavior on other fronts — the state subsidies that help firms gain key contracts, the pressure on foreign companies to move production to China and, above all, that exchange-rate policy — and what you have is a portrait of a rogue economic superpower, unwilling to play by the rules. And the question is what the rest of us are going to do about it.

Chinese Officials Push for Media Freedom

Michael Wines of the New York Times:

A group of retired Communist Party officials and intellectuals issued an unusually blunt demand on Tuesday for total media freedom in China, stating that the current regime of censorship and government control of the press violates China’s constitution and debases the government’s claim to represent its citizens.

The document’s 20 signers, including academics and many former executives of China’s government-controlled press, have no public influence on the nation’s ruling coalition of Communist leaders. Some of them have issued other public demands for reform in past years, to no effect.

Still, the bluntness of their message — and its timing, coming days after the jailed intellectual Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — signaled that not all in the ruling establishment are content with the steadily tightening control over expression in the final years of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao’s leadership.

The letter’s language was notable for including an undisguised attack on the legality of censorship by the party’s Central Propaganda Department, which ultimately controls much of what is published, broadcast or posted on the Internet here.

“This is an invisible black hand,” the signers wrote of the department. “For their own reasons, they violate our Constitution, often ordering by telephone that the works of such and such a person cannot be published, or that such and such an event cannot be reported in the media. The officials who make the call do not leave their names, and the secrecy of the agents is protected, but you must heed their phone instructions.”

The “core demand,” the writers stated, was that China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, dismantle censorship procedures “in favor of a system of legal responsibility” for items that are freely published.

The harder the ruling Chinese Communist Party tries to silence dissent and criticism, the more it will force its critics public. As this happens, government critics will become more and more prominent. More than ever, the outside world is watching how the Chinese government treats its dissidents. Kerry Brown has a piece in The Diplomat in which he makes the case that China is weaker than it looks, in large part due the challenges it faces with internal democratizing forces. It’s hard to be a power while focusing so much on repressing dissent. Either the Chinese government will learn to embrace its internal critics or, eventually, these democracy advocates will eventually push out the Chinese Communist Party and force a change in government.

Tendor on China’s Theft of Democracy

My good friend and former coworker Tenzin Dorjee is the Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet. He has an op-ed at Huffington Post titled “China’s Theft of Tibetan Ballots Threatens Democracy Everywhere.” On October 3rd, at the behest of the Chinese government, Nepali security forces stormed into voting stations and confiscated ballots cast by Tibetans in the Exile Government’s global election for both prime minister and members of parliament. Tendor notes that Tibetans “have participated in 14 parliamentary elections and two prime ministerial elections” since the 1960s. China had never previously sought to disrupt Tibetan exile elections in the past.

One key line of Tendor’s op-ed is this:

As Tibetan democracy finally comes of age, Beijing feels compelled to undermine this exercise of freedom and civil liberties that clashes with its own portrayal of Tibet as a feudal theocracy.

Moreover, the Tibetan election is a milestone in the global movement for democracy. What began as an unlikely democratic experiment in 1960 has evolved into a full-blown democratic government in exile, with the Parliament and Prime Minister elected by the Tibetan people through universal franchise. As the Chinese government continues to drag its authoritarian system well into the second millennium – leaving a fifth of the world’s population with no say over their own political future – a handful of Tibetans living in exile have overcome dispersion and statelessness to adopt an enlightened system of governance. This makes China look regressive and primitive in spite of its economic progress. It is, therefore, only natural that Beijing wants to undermine our democracy.

Perhaps the most prevalent argument by pro-occupation people for supporting China’s invasion of Tibet is that Tibet was a backwards, theocratic country. But as we’ve seen for decades, the “old Tibet” government, the institution of the Dalai Lama, has established a democracy in exile. By contrast, a friend points out in email, “new China is imprisoning Nobel laureates who call for democracy.”

Jailed Dissident Liu Xiaobo Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Today jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This is really an incredible statement by the Nobel Committee and a great push for democracy and human rights in China. Liu Xiaobo is one of China’s most prominent democracy and rights advocates, currently serving an 11 year prison term for calling for democracy, rights and a multi-party system in Charter 08. Charter 08 was initially signed by a small group of intellectuals and dissidents, though quickly signed by more than 2,000 citizens shortly after publication. It was intended to be a road map for how political change could safely occur in China.

Liu also stands out because of his strong support for Tibet and the Tibetan Government in Exile’s position of autonomy. In 2000, he authored an essay titled “The Right of Self-government,” which supported the Dalai Lama’s push for Tibetan autonomy (Chinese version, English translation). Obviously this did not win him many friends in the Chinese government. Liu has also put forward a specific plan for improving the situation in Tibet, authored with Wang Lixiong, “Twelve Suggestions on Dealing with the Tibetan Situation.” It was written just after the start of the March 2008 national uprising in Tibet, at a time when tensions were high and a massive crackdown against Tibetans was beginning. The article included in the suggestions:

1. At present the one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation. This is extremely detrimental to the long-term goal of safeguarding national unity. We call for such propaganda to be stopped.

2. We support the Dalai Lama’s appeal for peace, and hope that the ethnic conflict can be dealt with according to the principles of goodwill, peace, and non-violence. We condemn any violent act against innocent people, strongly urge the Chinese government to stop the violent suppression, and appeal to the Tibetan people likewise not to engage in violent activities….

9. We appeal to the Chinese people and overseas Chinese to be calm and tolerant, and to reflect deeply on what is happening. Adopting a posture of aggressive nationalism will only invite antipathy from the international community and harm China’s international image.

10. The disturbances in Tibet in the 1980s were limited to Lhasa, whereas this time they have spread to many Tibetan areas. This deterioration indicates that there are serious mistakes in the work that has been done with regard to Tibet. The relevant government departments must conscientiously reflect upon this matter, examine their failures, and fundamentally change the failed nationality policies.

11. In order to prevent similar incidents from happening in future, the government must abide by the freedom of religious belief and the freedom of speech explicitly enshrined in the Chinese Constitution, thereby allowing the Tibetan people fully to express their grievances and hopes, and permitting citizens of all nationalities freely to criticize and make suggestions regarding the government’s nationality policies.

Liu has even been a strong supporter of and advocate for Woeser, Tibet’s most famous poet and political dissident. This essay (Chinese version, English translation) defends one of her banned books and includes strong calls for freedom of thought and religion in China and Tibet. Again, these are not actions which made Liu popular with the Chinese government.

As much as today’s award is a great step in the cause of democracy and human rights in China, it has not yet changed the Chinese government. This is being reported on Twitter:

Wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo says police forcing her to leave Beijing: ‘They want to distance me from the media’

Nobel Peace Prize winner the Dalai Lama has already put out a statement in praise of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel win. I would hope that President Barack Obama, himself a Nobel Peace prize winner, issues a strong statement in support of Liu Xiaobo, including a call for his release from prison.

Today is a great day in the cause of freedom and human rights. People often ask me whether or not freedom can ever come for Tibetans. I’ve always believed that for change to occur in Tibet, there must be change in China first. Liu Xiaobo is one of the leading advocates for democracy in China whose work makes the very possibility of a resolution to the Tibet question a likelihood. It is dissidents like Liu, Wang Lixiong, Hu Jia, and blogger Han Han who are going to bring meaningful political change in China, a likely precondition to freedom in Tibet. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than Liu Xiaobo, a truly courageous man of principle whose belief in democracy and freedom has the power to shake one of the largest countries in the world to its core.

Cross posted at The Huffington Post.

President Barack Obama has issued a statement calling on the Chinese government to release Liu Xiaobo. Here is the President’s statement in full:

I welcome the Nobel Committee’s decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Liu Xiaobo. Last year, I noted that so many others who have received the award had sacrificed so much more than I. That list now includes Mr. Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs. By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

As I said last year in Oslo, even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal to all human beings. Over the last 30 years, China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected. We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible. [Emphasis added]

This is a great statement from President Obama, both in its humility and in the President’s use of his platform to call for Liu’s release. Thank you, Mr. President.