Occupation is No Vacation

St. Regis Lhasa opened in November near Lhasa's Barkor.

In November 2010, the St. Regis Lhasa Resort opened its doors to guests, boasting 200 luxury rooms, an on-site butler, a spa, numerous restaurants, and countless amenities. This would be considered luxurious in anyplace but in Tibet, a formally independent country occupied by China in 1949. Occupation is no vacation and tourist operators need to understand that business in Tibet is not business as usual.

Under Chinese occupation, Tibetans’ basic human rights are regularly violated, including their internationally recognized right to control their own land and resources. Since 1999, the Chinese government has pursued its “Western Development Plan,” encouraging large-scale migration of Chinese settlers into Tibet and extending business opportunities to foreign companies. This plan is intended to help China consolidate control over Tibet and attract foreign direct investment to finance its occupation.

The operation of the St. Regis Lhasa could exacerbate the abuses that Tibetans face unless immediate measures are taken to ensure business is conducted in compliance with their needs and interests.

Students for a Free Tibet has contacted the CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Fritz van Paasschen, and the owners of  the St. Regis property with our concerns. We requested more information on the St. Regis Lhasa’s operation to determine if this luxury hotel could truly be part of the solution in empowering Tibetans in Tibet, rather than part of the problem in contributing to their further marginalization under Chinese rule.

Discrimination and intimidation tactics on the part of Chinese officials has made it increasingly difficult for Tibetan guides and tour operators to compete with Chinese businesses. In 2010, Dorje Tashi, a successful Tibetan hotelier, was sentenced to life imprisonment following a closed-door trial. Chinese authorities have yet to publicly release the details of his alleged crimes. No tourist operator should collaborate with the Chinese government in repressing the basic rights of Tibetans – or others – and Starwood’s executives need to think carefully about the implications operating in a conflict zone could have on their brand name and corporate reputation – especially in the event of another popular uprising in Tibet.

Economic development that brings an end to the decades of marginalization and repression suffered at the hands of the Chinese government and respects their right to control this development is welcomed by Tibetans. However, businesses that fail to both address the deep-seated inequalities Tibetans face under Chinese occupation and respect Tibetans’ political, cultural, and religious rights, will only intensify the injustices that Tibetans suffer. The Holiday Inn, British Petroleum, and KFC are amongst the corporations that have canceled their business plans or withdrawn from Tibet after facing intense public campaigns from Tibetan rights organizations.

We hope Starwood and the St. Regis owners’ will do the right thing.


Read More:

Tibetans Target Starwoods AGM Over New St. Regis in Lhasa

A Joint Open Letter to Investors of IHG from Free Tibet Campaign and Students for a Free Tibet:

Tibetans and Tibet Supporters Target InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG)’s AGM

Read more about this effort led by Free Tibet Campaign:


No Foreigners Allowed…Again?

In March I wrote about how foreigners were banned from traveling to Lhasa, and it seems the authorities are denying entry permits to the Tibet Autonomous Region yet again.

Urban Sprawl in Lhasa, April 2011

In March, the official (read: Chinese government) reason for the ban was the over-crowding of tourists and extreme weather.  These were blatant lies, as there were few tourists in Lhasa at the time—only domestic tourists were allowed permits—and the weather was sunny, occasionally cloudy and windy.  The real reason was that the government did not want foreign tourists to view firsthand the current crackdown and the heightened military presence in March, due to fears of potential unrest on the anniversary of the Uprisings of 1959 and 2008

The Potala square in April, 2011, devoid of tourists.

In April, permits were re-issued, and fair-skinned foreign tourists toting heavy cameras began trickling in, trailing their tour guides around the city.  It had been one month since I had seen any foreigners save the few that I knew lived in Lhasa, and I stared and studied them with the same fascination as the Tibetans, not used to the sight of them.  A recent news article stated that areas of Sichuan, most likely Ngaba, were closed to tourists in April, following the self-immolation of a monk and the subsequent protests and crackdown in the region.

In May, another politically sensitive anniversary occurred on the 23rd—the 60th anniversary of the signing of the 17-Point Agreement, which China dubs the official day of Tibet’s “peaceful liberation.” (read the “17 Points of Disagreement”: 60 Years of China’s Failed Policies in Tibet)

It is now June, and the two anniversaries have passed, so why is Tibet yet again closed to foreign tourists? Documents cited the May 23rd anniversary, but it seems more likely that the ban is in response to the upcoming July 1st anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding.  Likewise, the recent protests in Inner Mongolia may also have something to do with it:

In May, Beijing told foreigners not to sow unrest in its vast northern region of Inner Mongolia, after rare protests by ethnic Mongolians sparked by the hit-and-run death of a herder garnered international attention.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu has said people overseas had an ‘ulterior motive’ and were trying to use the incident ‘to cause trouble’. (Reuters)

While blaming foreigners for unrest in Inner Mongolia is flattering, credit must be given where credit is due, and the people of Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and East Turkestan need to be recognized for their brave efforts.

The fact that Tibet is so frequently closed due to fears of potential unrest and heightened military crackdowns is absurd and horrifying.  March through October is the tourist high season, yet three out of the past four months saw bans on foreign tourists in numerous areas in Tibet. Tour guides who have no work in the winter must toil grueling hours in the high season, making most, if not all of their income in that half of the year. A ban on foreign tourists means that hundreds, potentially thousands of tour guides will be making next to nothing this year.

Right now, Lhasa is being built up into a tourist hot spot, with new luxury hotels like the St. Regis Lhasa Resort and the Intercontinental popping up, along with malls, movie theaters, department stores, and restaurants emerging and vying for tourist dollars.  The St. Regis Lhasa Resort opened its doors in November, boasting that they are offering training and employment opportunities for local Tibetans, but how can a hotel thrive when there are no tourists?  They have built it, but no one can come.

How can tourism successfully function in Tibet today? It cannot and it will not until Tibet is a free and independent nation, free of military oppression, economic marginalization, and religious and cultural repression.


Read more from e.v. de cleyre


China closes Tibet to foreigners until July 26 (AP)

UPDATE 1-China closes Tibet to foreigners ahead of anniversary (Reuters)

China closes Tibet to foreigners until July 26 in apparent move to head off disturbances (AP/Washington Post)

A Reason to Hope: My Interaction with His Holiness in Los Angeles

On May 4th, Amnesty International honored His Holiness the Dalai Lama at its 50th anniversary event in Los Angeles. During the presentation, I had the opportunity to represent SFT and ask a question on stage.

As His Holiness exited with his entourage, he stopped to speak with a few of us. I held out a khata (traditional greeting scarf) and as I greeted him, he held my hands and said, “Don’t give up; you all must continue your work. Never lose hope, because change is definitely coming.”

He went on to say that in light of the increasing pace of change in China, it is important to work with the Chinese people – writers, intellectuals, artists, the opinion-makers of society.

The previous day, I had spoken at a conference bringing together Chinese dissidents, Tibetan activists, Mongolians, Uyghurs, and Taiwanese to discuss opportunities and develop strategies for advancing our respective struggles for freedom, democracy, and human rights.

I explained to His Holiness that our global network was engaging in strategic Chinese outreach by connecting with key democracy advocates, writers, artists, students, lawyers and intellectuals. He assured me our efforts will make a difference and that change is imminent.

In that moment, I felt the immensity of the work ahead of us, but also had the distinct feeling that victory was inevitable.

With your help we can bring about freedom in Tibet. Please donate today to support SFT’s work.

As we build new and strategic alliances, we must continue to challenge China’s abuses in Tibet at every turn. I was reminded of this minutes after His Holiness left, when I joined Lobsang, the official videographer for the award ceremony.

Lobsang is from Ngaba, the county in Amdo, Tibet that is under attack by Chinese security forces. His 15-year-old cousin, Norbu, was shot dead by China’s armed police on March 16th, 2008 for taking part in a peaceful protest for Tibetan freedom.

Three years after the day Norbu was shot, Phuntsok Jarutsang, a 20-year-old monk, lit himself on fire in an act of protest against China’s repression, and troops have since laid siege on Kirti monastery.

Right now, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, are meeting with Chinese officials in Washington, DC. Urge the U.S. Administration to raise Tibet and human rights during this week’s U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue.

Together, we can ensure that one day soon, people like Lobsang – and all Tibetans – are united with their families and homeland.

Please support SFT today:

Thank you for all you do for Tibet,

Tenzin Dorjee (Tendor)
Executive Director

SFT’s March 10th Press Release: Global Protests Mark Tibetan Uprising Day


For Immediate Release:
March 10th, 2011

Contact: Tenzin Dorjee, Executive Director, +1 646-724-0748
Kate Woznow, Deputy Director, +1 917-601-0069
Tenzin Dolkar, USA Director, +1 917-664-5530

New Generation of Tibetans Lead Nonviolent Resistance Movement in Tibet

New York – Thousands of Tibetans and Tibet supporters in dozens of countries will take to the streets today, March 10th, to commemorate the 1959 National Uprising when tens of thousands of Tibetans rose up to demand an end to China’s occupation. Chinese forces intensified security measures in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital in advance of the sensitive anniversary, barring foreign visitors and conducting late-night raids on hotels. In spite of China’s military stranglehold on their nation, a new generation of Tibetans is embracing nonviolent resistance tactics that defy Beijing’s authority, strengthen Tibetan identity, and inspire hope.

“50 years on, an entirely new generation of Tibetans – in Tibet and in exile – is rising up,” said Tenzin Dorjee, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet. “Young Tibetans are taking leadership of our movement by engaging in bold political acts and expressing their desire for freedom through music, literature, and social media; this generation is determined to finish what began a half century ago.”

A homegrown grassroots movement has gained momentum in Tibet in the past year, as a growing number of Tibetans engage in simple yet powerful actions – speaking only in Tibetan, eating in Tibetan-owned restaurants – particularly on Wednesdays, a day believed to be auspicious for the Dalai Lama (1). Well-known Tibetan musicians and intellectuals have also been boldly asserting their political views, prompting Chinese authorities to ban popular songs and detain more than 60 Tibetan cultural figures.

“The recent uprisings in the Arab world, along with the growing dissent in China itself, has further galvanized a new generation of Tibetans committed to taking nonviolent action to end Chinese rule,” said Tenzin Dolkar, Students for a Free Tibet’s USA Director. “The Chinese government has tried – and failed – to crush the Tibetan spirit. As we see people around the world rising up for freedom and democracy, we know it is only a matter of time before change comes to Tibet and China.”

In advance of the sensitive anniversary, the Chinese government has heightened security measures in Tibet in an attempt to deter Tibetans from engaging in any form of dissent. Three years ago today, Tibetan monks marching for the release of fellow monks were violently stopped by Chinese forces, sparking the largest and most widespread demonstrations against Chinese rule in Tibet since 1959. Chinese troops have been permanently stationed throughout Tibet since.

“The Tibetan people’s struggle for freedom has long enjoyed the support of the global community and we urge our government leaders to follow suit by pressing China to commit to a just and lasting resolution for Tibet,” said Kate Woznow, Deputy Director of Students for a Free Tibet.

Tibetans and Tibet supporters in at least 100 cities worldwide today, including in the USA, Poland, UK, France, Germany, Canada, India, Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan, are demonstrating their support for the Tibetan freedom struggle through rallies, marches, candle light vigils, and government lobbying initiatives.

Note to Editor:

1) More information about the nonviolent resistance movement in Tibet can be found at a website launched on March 9, 2011 by a diverse coalition of Tibetan writers, artists, and activists.


Losar 2138: New Year, New Generation, New Hope

Today is Losar – the first day of the Iron Rabbit Year 2138 according to the Tibetan lunar calendar.

As we welcome the Tibetan New Year, we celebrate the spirit and resilience of a new generation bringing new hope for freedom to the Tibetan people.

All of us at Students for a Free Tibet wish you and your loved ones a Happy Losar.

As we work hard to speed up the winds of change blowing from the Arab world, we hope this year will bring an end to the suffering and oppression in Tibet.

Losar Tashi Delek,

Tendor, Kate, TenDolkar, Mary-Kate, Stefanie, Tentsetan and all of us at SFT HQ

Read & share Losar related blog posts below:

One Tibet, Many Tibetan New Years: Tibetan Bloggers Call for Unity

Tsampa Eaters and Sweet Tea Drinkers: Tibetan Identity Assertion Through Food

In Defense of Tibetan Cooking (Part I)

Tibetan Musician Tashi Dhondup Released!

Tashi Dhondup

Tibet has no freedom I sing. And I'll sing it throughout my life. For which even if I am killed. I have no regrets. – Lyrics from Tashi Dhondup's "No Regrets"

Tashi Dhondup, a popular Tibetan musician is free!

We’re excited to share with you news that Tashi Dhondup has been released after serving most of his 15-month prison sentence.

He was detained at gunpoint in December 2009 and accused of “composing subversive songs” following the release of his popular album “Torture without Trace”.

Tashi Dhondup is part of a growing wave of Tibetan writers, musicians, and intellectuals who are boldly defying Chinese authorities by openly expressing their loyalty to the Dalai Lama and desire for freedom.

Radio Free Asia has reported that he has safely returned to his home county of Yuglan, in eastern Tibet, and was warmly received along the way by locals with scarves and greetings. Read more about his release.

A new translation of Tashi Dhondup’s song “Waiting with Hope” is now available on the Tibetan blog High Peaks Pure Earth.
Join us in celebrating his release by viewing and sharing this video:

The price for defying Chinese rule is steep. There are more than 800 known political prisoners in Tibet today. In spite of the risks, Tibetans across Tibet continue to resist against all odds.

Your actions do help! Please keep the pressure on the Chinese government to release Tibetan prisoners of conscience.

SFT has highlighted the works of Tashi Dhondup, and those by many other detained Tibetan writers and artists, as part of the Renaissance Series, a monthly event aimed at amplifying the songs, poems, and writings banned in Tibet.

Join us in calling on China to release Norzin Wangmo, a female cadre and writer from Ngaba, in eastern Tibet.

Following the widespread protests in 2008, she was sentenced to 5 years in prison for speaking on the phone and on the Internet about Chinese government abuses in Tibet.

Take Action:

The Chinese government’s harsh reaction to Norzin Wangmo’s actions demonstrate how threatened it is by the growing resistance movement inside Tibet. As we watch the revolution unfolding in Egypt, the Chinese censors are working double time. Hu Jintao knows that freedom is contagious and that no dictatorship lasts forever.

Through our collective efforts, we can support and encourage Tibetans, Chinese, Uyghurs, Mongolians and everyone who is fighting for their freedom.

Thank you for standing with Tibet.

Help Defend the Tibetan Language

Last month Tibetan students in Rebkong, Amdo boldly protested the Chinese government’s decision to replace Tibetan with Chinese as the language of instruction in Tibetan schools by 2015. In the following days, the protests spread as more than 8,000 students – some as young as 13 – took to the streets to defend their fundamental right to study in their mother tongue. Watch a compilation of Radio Free Asia’s footage of the protests.

Language forms the foundation of Tibet’s unique and vibrant culture; to deny Tibetans their language is an attack on their fundamental human rights. Overnight, language became a flashpoint of cultural resistance inside Tibet, and has sparked a solidarity movement worldwide.

Support SFT’s global grassroots effort to pressure China to respect Tibetans’ fundamental right to language by clicking here.

Tendor and Kusho Lobsang Monlam

SFT’s Tendor and Ven.    Lobsang Monlam

This Wednesday, we hosted the fourth episode of the Renaissance Series, In My Mother Tongue: Freedom Through Language. Ven. Lobsang Monlam, the creator of the Monlam Tibetan Unicode, gave an inspiring presentation about new digital tools he has helped develop – including the newly released Tibetan keyboard for iPhone 4.2 – that are helping to elevate the global status of the Tibetan language.

SFT’s Renaissance Series was launched this summer to promote the writings, poetry, music, and other works of art and literature banned in Chinese-occupied Tibet.

 In spite of China’s escalated repression following the widespread protests in 2008, there is a cultural renaissance underway in Tibet. Writers, musicians, and intellectuals are boldly asserting their views as a form of resistance to China’s colonial occupation. Tibetans in Tibet and in exile are reclaiming their language as part of this renaissance. Through grassroots action and digital innovation, we can help ensure the Tibetan language flourishes, withstanding attacks from the Chinese government. Please help us to support this cultural renaissance, and amplify the voices of Tibetans inside Tibet that are calling for the protection of their language by donating today.

SFTtv: Season 3, Episode 2

October 06, 2010
This week, TenDolkar reports on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s NYC visit, opening of Tibet in Song, China Gold mining protest in Canada, Qinghai-Tibet railway extension in Tibet, 4th year anniversary of Nangpa la Pass shooting and release of ‘Murder in the High Himalaya’ & breaking news on armed Nepalese police confiscating Tibetan ballot boxes in Kathmandu.

Click here to watch past episodes of SFTtv