Tag - A Free Tibet in a Free World

Facebook responded to our petition, but this is not enough…yet

“Facebook has long been a place where people turn to share their experiences, particularly when they’re connected to controversial events. Where such expression involves graphic videos, it needs to be shared responsibly, so that younger people on Facebook do not see it, and it doesn’t appear without warning in peoples’ News Feeds. While we continue to work on ways of giving people ways to share graphic expression responsibly, we will remove video content of this nature from our service. 

We took the action in question because of violations of our Community Standards. These standards apply to everyone who uses our service regardless of where there are located. Any suggestion that we took action because of politics, philosophy or theoretical business interests is completely false.”

On Tuesday, Debbie Frost, VP for International Communications and Public Affairs at Facebook posted the above response to my blog, in which I explained the reasons why ICT launched a petition to Facebook concerning the deletion of a post by Woeser that included a video of the self-immolation of Kelsang Yeshe.

First of all, let me say that I welcome the decision by Facebook to respond. I appreciate the opportunity to have a dialogue on a critical issue that has raised the concerns of Facebook users and many other citizens.

At the same time, I believe that this response misses the main point that led us to take the decision to launch this petition.

The point is that the existence of freedom of expression can be seriously assessed only when “controversial” issues, and in particular social and political events, are considered. Strong emotions can be stirred up in the political arena, and only there can the respect of freedom of expression, and its limits, can be properly evaluated.

Now, clearly, a public self-immolation is an inherently political action (whether or not one agrees with this kind of action is not the point under discussion here) and although the images can be very graphic and disturbing, the decision to ban or delete such videos from Facebook is not purely a technical choice, but rather a very serious political decision.

The International Campaign for Tibet’s petition, quickly signed by almost 8,000 people from all over the world so far, calls on Facebook to consider these videos for what they are: a tragic call for attention by people who have no freedom of expression and who are crying for the help of the outside world to end China’s repression in Tibet.

Facebook operates in the so-called free world and these individuals are taking these actions in a closed society precisely so the free world will take note and do something to intervene.

Banning such videos means first of all denying Tibetans the right to be heard.

Sadly, 136 of them have taken this tragic decision since 2009 inside Tibet.

What was also disturbing was to see this video deleted on the Facebook account of Woeser, a Tibetan who posts critical information about the situation in Tibet from China, while the same video continues to be available on other Facebook accounts. Also, although previous posts by Woeser about self-immolations were not removed, this happened for the first time a few weeks after the head of the Chinese internet censorship machine was welcomed at Facebook headquarters and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly praised a book of speeches by Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, telling his staff that “I want them to understand socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

If Facebook wants to be believed when saying that “Any suggestion that we took action because of politics, philosophy or theoretical business interests is completely false,” it has only one simply way to prove it: restore the video on Woeser’s account. If you wish, as we do, you can add a warning about the graphic images for the viewers to see, so they can make an informed choice. Deleting it is not really the way to go.

To our members and Tibet supporters around the world: please continue to sign our petition until we achieve our goal and restore freedom of expression on Facebook.



Facebook, don’t cover up the suffering of Tibetans

sign petition btnOver the last weeks and months, news from Tibet has reminded us of how an unrelenting lack of freedom can combine with oppressive policies to tragically become unbearable for Tibetan men and women.

From December 16 to December 23, three self-immolations took place in Tibet. Sangye Khar, a man in his mid-thirties; Tseypey, a nineteen years old woman; and Kalsang Yeshe, a man believed to be in his mid-thirties.

Overall, in 2014, there were 11 self-immolations in Tibet. These self-immolations, like the other 125 to have taken place since 2009, did not injure anyone else. No Chinese official, business or passerby has ever been hurt by these tragic sacrifices, which have sought to try to bring the attention of the outside world to the situation in Tibet and to ask for the return of the Dalai Lama.

Despite these deliberate choices to carefully avoid hurting anybody or anything, over 100 Tibetans (many of them friends or family of the self-immolators) have been sentenced to prison terms for “inciting” or “cooperating” with self-immolators, adding shades of illegal and repulsive collective punishment to these tragic losses.

Thinking about the sense of loss and of desperation suffered by the communities and families of these Tibetan men and women is deeply saddening and should be a wake-up call for all of us: we must tell China that enough is enough.

Notably, in 2014, almost all 11 self-immolations took place near either a local government office or a local police station. Clearly, these people decided to make the ultimate sacrifice of renouncing their life by leaving behind a message, and in some cases images, that could be noticed by Chinese authorities and become public.

Knowing that information in China is tightly controlled and censored, the only hope they had was that it reached and is being reported outside, through all possible means.

This is why I was shocked when I read Woeser’s account that on December 26, Facebook deleted her post about the self-immolation of the Tibetan man Kelsang Yeshe.

The purely “technical” explanation provided by Facebook does not stand to scrutiny for the simple reason that respecting freedom of expression (as clearly is in this case of a tragic political action) can never be overruled by inconsistently applied “graphic” concerns.

The whole story becomes even more worrying when we consider the way the video was removed just a few weeks after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg welcomed Lu Wei to the Facebook campus in California. Lu Wei is the Chinese internet “Czar” who oversees the immense censorship system Beijing has developed in China, a man Zuckerberg may be courting if he hopes to open Facebook operations in China.

We do not need nor want Chinese government censorship practices to be exported to Facebook or any other social network. This is now becoming a real concern, not just an idle worry.

And this is why at the International Campaign for Tibet we have launched a petition to call on Facebook to stop blocking images of Tibetan self-immolations, especially if the users are posting them (with many technical difficulties) from within China, as Woeser does.

Censorship from the free world would be the ultimate offense to these courageous people who are trying to bring justice and freedom to places where people do not now enjoy them.

As Aung San Su Skyi once said: “Please use your freedoms to promote ours”.

Now, dear friends, is the time to do it. Please sign our petition and support the International Campaign for Tibet in giving a voice to these Tibetan men and women.



Meetings with ICT members in Europe and a call to release relatives and friends of self-immolators

Dear all,

It is good to be back in DC and continue to share with you more in detail some of the activities that we at ICT relentlessly continue to carry out. From publishing reports, to issuing press releases on urgent issues, from meeting government officials and members of Parliament to reaching out to Chinese people of good will.

But let me start from the end: my visit to ICT Europe in Amsterdam.

It was a weeklong series of meetings, where I had the pleasure to work side by side with a great and very committed team. It is led by a bedrock of the Tibetan movement internationally, my dear Tibetan friend and colleague Tsering Jampa, the Executive Director of ICT Europe, to whose leadership ICT owes a lot.

The last day I was there, I had the privilege to have a public meeting and meet personally with dozens of ICT members and donors who for a long time (in many cases a lifetime!) have been supporting Tibetans. It was also a great opportunity for me to present to them how we are working to respond to the formidable challenge posed by China, not only to the preservation of a genuine and free Tibetan culture and identity in Tibet, but to the entire world due to its aggressive policies both internal and international.

ICT-Europe meeting

(Left) ICT-Europe staff and a volunteer talk to members after the meeting. (Right) Public meeting with ICT members in Amsterdam on September 5, 2014.

In the previous days, we also had a strategy meeting with other ICT European colleagues to prepare our advocacy work in the next weeks and months, based on the thorough documentation that we continue to gather from Tibet every day.

As you might know, at the end of July ICT published a dramatic and very important Report “Acts of Significant Evil“, that documents how 98 Tibetans have been convicted, detained or disappeared over the last few years, many for allegedly encouraging other Tibetans (usually their relatives, friends or fellow monks) to self-immolate.

It might sound impossible to a reasonable person, but as an ICT supporter you know that this is the reality in which Tibetans live in Tibet. Only a senseless government can convict, without any sort of evidence or a fair trial, someone like Lobsang Tsundue, a monk from the Kirti monastery, to 11 years in jail for “intentional homicide,” after his fellow monk Phuntsog self immolated on March 16, 2011. This, and other forms of collective punishment that we have documented in the report, brings us back to the dark times when dictators punished entire communities to intimidate everybody not to challenge the ruling elites. Is this the China with whom our governments want to establish stable partnership? This was an issue that I raised also with Dutch government officials.

This notwithstanding, we know that the spirit of Tibetans is still strong and it gives us an even stronger sense of urgency to work hard to push the international community and our governments to raise the issue of Tibet with China, because, simply, this behavior cannot find its place among civilized nations.

I concluded my remarks in Amsterdam saying that we know that no government can rule forever without the genuine support of their own people and that even those who seem to be the strongest and most powerful can suddenly collapse or be forced to change.

So, let’s keep up our work, we know that we are on the right side of history and that both the Tibetan and the Chinese people deserve a better future, and I look forward to share with you more news next week.



In Italy, to keep Tibet on the agenda of the European Union

ICT stand

The ICT stand inside the Modigliani Forum in Livorno during His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings.

Benedetto Della Vedova, Matteo Mecacci, Vincent Metten

Undersecretary of State Benedetto Della Vedova, Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet and EU Policy Director Vincent Metten.

Last week, I had a week-long visit to Italy with the aim to keep Tibet on the agenda of Italian and EU institutions for the coming months. The occasion was given by the fact that Italy will chair the European Union for six months starting on July 1 and also by the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Italy. He was there for a series of teachings and a public talk, in Pomaia at the Lama Thsong Khapa Institute and in Livorno, from the 13 to the 15 of June.

In the days preceding the teachings, I was joined by Vincent Metten, EU policy Director of ICT, to participate in several meetings in Rome, both with Government representatives and Members of Parliament. Also, in those same days, the new Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, was in China for his first visit to Beijing since he assumed power. On these issues, I published an article in an Italian newspaper (English translation), and I also held a hearing before the human rights committee of the Chamber of Deputies.

This was an important occasion to renew and reinforce the call of ICT and of its supporters worldwide to EU and democratic countries to adopt a common and principled position on the issue of Tibet while dealing with China.

Finally, in Pomaia and Livorno I had the opportunity and the privilege to spend few days with thousands of people who had gathered from all over the world to welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to participate in his teachings. Elena Gaita and Joel Hirv from the ICT Brussels office joined me to distribute thousands of reports, flyers, t-shirts and other gadgets to participants.

I was there for the entire duration of the teachings and I was privileged to be part of a joyous atmosphere. Finally, I also had a non-programmed chance to speak with His Holiness the Dalai Lama about our work at ICT and his kindness was once again remarkable.