Stand Up for Tibet

This morning, I awoke to images of monks engulfed in orange flames. One was walking, the other was sprawled out on the pavement. In another photograph, a monk lay face down on the ground, his maroon robes now blackened and charred. (Warning: graphic images)

In my shock and anger, I spent two hours writing a lengthy letter to everyone I know, asking them to Stand Up for Tibet.  I’d like to ask you to do the same.


Dear friends,
I write to you today to ask for your help.
As you may or may not know, I was recently hired full-time at Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that uses education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action to campaign for Tibetans’ fundamental right for political freedom and independence. I first began working for SFT in May of 2011, after having spent five of the last seven months in Tibet. I had planned on staying in Tibet longer, but the increased military presence in the city I was living in, as well as the overall feeling of oppression made it unbearable for me to stay. As a foreigner, I had the luxury to leave. Tibetans inside Tibet are socially and economically marginalized under the Chinese government’s rule–even on their own land–and obtaining a passport is impossible for most. I left knowing that it was highly likely I could never go back again until Tibet was free and independent.

This year, the situation in Tibet has deteriorated rapidly. In March 2011, a young monk set himself on fire, or self-immolated, as a form of protest against China’s repressive policies in Tibet. The monk died from his injuries, and the incident sent shock waves across Tibet, and throughout Tibetans in exile and Tibet supporters. Then, it happened again on August 15th, when another monk self-immolated and died. The Chinese government’s solution in both cases was to flood the monastery and surrounding towns with troops. In April, access to the monastery was completely cut off by troops, phone lines and internet were cut, and there was fear that the monks inside would starve, having no access to food and water. Then, 300 monks were arrested, and their whereabouts are still currently unknown. A “political re-education” campaign had begun. Six people were incarcerated in connection with the first self-immolation incident. My NGO began petition and letter writing campaigns to the local government officials in eastern Tibet, asking them to cease the crackdown, but nothing changed; the crackdown continued.

On September 26th, two young monks waved the Tibetan flag–which is banned in Tibet–and shouted “long live the Dalai Lama” before setting themselves on fire. They did not die, and their whereabouts and well-being are currently unknown. Again, the Tibetan communities were shocked and outraged. On October 3rd, another young monk set himself on fire near a vegetable market in the same town, while holding a photograph of the Dalai Lama and shouting that there were no religious rights and freedoms in Tibet. His whereabouts and well-being are currently unknown. Days later, on October 7th, two young Tibetans–former monks–held their hands in supplicatory gestures before lighting themselves on fire in the same town. They both died from their injuries. On October 15th, another young monk self-immolated, shouting for independence. Eyewitnesses reported that police chased him while he was still on fire, and they beat him after extinguishing the flames. He was taken away in a police vehicle, and his whereabouts and well-being are currently unknown. On October 17th, a Tibetan nun self-immolated and died at the scene. 20 year-old Tenzin Wangmo is the first woman to have self-immolated in the history of Tibet.

In six months, nine Tibetans have self-immolated, and five have died.

In Tibetan Buddhism, suicide is viewed as one of the worst sins. In a religion that believes in reincarnation, a human rebirth is seen as extremely precious and rare, and to throw it away by committing suicide condemns you to the lowest depths of hell for future rebirths. The nine individuals who took such drastic actions to protest China’s rule knew of the spiritual consequences of their actions, having been educated in monasteries and a nunnery. While we cannot imagine their precise thoughts or motivations for the self-immolations, they have made it very clear that they wish for religious freedom, independence, and the return of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Enough is enough. These self-immolations are a desperate cry for help, and it is time for the world to act. We need Tibetans inside Tibet to know that we hear them. As citizens of the United States, we are born with free speech, and we need to use it on behalf of those silenced in Tibet, to say, “Enough! Global Intervention Now to Save Tibetan Lives.” Please stand up with me for Tibet.

Here is what we can do:
1. Stand Up for Tibet. Sign your name to the pledge, and share it with others: http://standupfortibet.org/enough/dk-speakup-petition-1/
2. Call on people of influence in your communities and your elected government representatives, and ask them to formally sign their name to the pledge. Signatures can be sent to info@studentsforafreetibet.org. Find your representatives at: http://whoismyrepresentative.com/
3. Join the Global Day of Action on November 2nd, or organize your own solidarity action: http://standupfortibet.org/global-protests/

On November 3rd and 4th, world leaders will convene for the G20 Summit in Cannes, France. On November 2nd, Tibetans and Tibet supporters across the globe–from Tokyo to Uruguay, Munich, and New Delhi–are participating in the Global Day of Action to say “Enough! Global Intervention Now to Save Tibetan Lives.” There will be an action in NYC, a vigil in Boston, and a mass rally in Washington, D.C. Visit http://standupfortibet.org/global-protests/ to join a rally, or organize your own in your town and list it on the website.

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this, and hopefully to sign the pledge and share it with others. I hope that I can serve as a resource for you on Tibet. Feel free to reach out to me with questions, assistance, or for more information and materials. I am always happy to help. Below, I have included some of the best, most relevant articles to date, and a sample letter to send to your government representatives.

Thank you for reading.

Sincerely, e.v.

Read more (organized by date):
Barbara Demick (Los Angeles Times), Self-immolations add radical bent to Tibetan protests, 23 October 2011
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-china-tibet-20111023,0,840542.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fmostviewed+%28L.A.+Times+-+Most+Viewed+Stories%29

Associated Press, Tibetan monk who set himself on fire seen in video leaked from China after self-immolations, 22 October 2011
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/amateur-video-captures-tibetan-monks-failed-suicide-bid-in-southwest-china/2011/10/23/gIQAFRBM8L_story.html

Radio Free Asia, Troops Pour Into Lhasa, 20 October 2011
http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/troops-10202011174300.html

(Video) Associated Foreign Press, Aba under siege after Tibetan monks protest, 19 October 2011 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWNQJTPpkxo  — Rare footage smuggled out of Tibet shows the military siege in the town of Ngaba (Ch: Aba) following the recent self-immolations.

Malcolm Moore (Telegraph), Tibet shocked by increase in monks setting themselves on fire, 12 October 2011
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/tibet/8822536/Tibet-shocked-by-increase-in-monks-setting-themselves-on-fire.html

Edward Wong (New York Times), Study Points to Heavy-Handed Repression of Tibetan Area in China, 12 October 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/world/asia/study-points-to-heavy-handed-repression-of-tibetan-area-in-china.html

Marrianne Barriaux (AFP), Tibetan monastery a ‘virtual prison’: exile monk, 11 October 2011
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iwaBglzioZ7tkZxso81DRmDOtxsg?docId=CNG.a53db9560f7a409342b40008d5374f7a.6a1

A Sample Letter to your Government Representative:
Dear (XXX),

My name is (XXX), I am from (XXX, XXX) and I am writing you today to express my concern over the situation inside Tibet.

Since March of 2011, nine young Tibetans–mostly monks–have set fire to themselves in eastern Tibet; seven since the 26th of September. Five have died, including one nun, who is the first woman to self-immolate in the history of Tibet. These unprecedented and truly desperate acts are a cry to the outside world for help.

The global community, both citizens and governments, must Stand Up for Tibet in this time of crisis. Over 14,000 signatures have been gathered in the last week, pledging support for a global diplomatic intervention for Tibet. I am writing to ask that (XXX) add (his/her/your) name to the pledge, which asks for a coordinated international response by world leaders to condemn China’s repressive measures, to institute multi-lateral mechanisms to advocate for the Tibetan people, and calls on China to withdraw its security forces from eastern Tibet and stop the ongoing harassment and torture of monks. Five Members of Canadian Parliament have signed the pledge, as well as one Member of French Parliament, and one Member of Italian Parliament, among others. You may visit the website here: http://www.StandUpForTibet.org

I would be happy to speak with you by phone if you have any inquiries, and will follow-up with your office this week. I can be reached at (XXX).

Thank you for your time and attention to this dire issue,
(Your Name)

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