2015 sees little good news in Tibet and mixed fortunes for the Tibetan cause internationally
The slideshows at the foot of this page feature images from the year inside and outside Tibet. Events in 2015 have been a reminder of the challenges the Tibetan people face before they win freedom.
Inside Tibet: suffocating repression, ideological control and fewer protests
2015 has seen fewer protests across Tibet than we have come to expect in recent years. Only six self-immolations have taken place, the last being in August. 2012 saw the peak of these protests with 83 throughout the year and there were 11 in 2014. The policy introduced in 2013 of punishing families and communities of self-immolation protesters appears to have had a deterrent effect, while it is also possible that this form of protest has diminished because expectations inside Tibet that it would lead to greater international support have not been met.
There have also been few large protests in Tibet, with those that have occurred frequently being triggered by local issues such as land grabs. The eastern Tibetan region of Ngaba remains one of the most restive, with regular solo protests taking place there since September.
There is no indication at all, however, that the relative lack of protests reflects Tibetan acceptance of Chinese rule. Across Tibet, and in defiance of the authorities, celebrations were held for the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama but this was a very rare example of official tolerance: the government is exercising ever-tightening control over Tibetan life. Communist party cadres (officials) and members monitor Tibetans' actions and political positions online and sometimes even at neighbourhood level. This year, monasteries - frequently the focus of resistance - have been subject to close surveillance and repeated pressures to show their loyalty to the state. Writers, bloggers and musicians continue to be at risk of arrest and sentences for any perceived political opposition can be severe.
A number of Tibetan political prisoners have been released this year but their releases have been counterbalanced by arrests and convictions, especially among monks. The most significant event inside Tibet was the death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Tibet's highest profile political prisoner. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was repeatedly denied medical parole. After his sudden death, his body was cremated against his family's wishes and his ashes confiscated. Protests in his home area were suppressed with brutality.
From Beijing, tough words and soft propaganda
The year has seen tough rhetoric regarding Tibetan "separatism" and the Dalai Lama. Political leaders in Beijing and Lhasa have consistently reinforced the message that they will be "unswerving" in eradicating "separatism" in Tibet, including at a critical planning meeting in Beijing, presided over by President Xi Jinping.
Beijing has reacted with outrage to the suggestion by the Dalai Lama that he might not reincarnate. Beijing wants to ensure that the current, exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is replaced when he dies by someone over whom they have control. Although few expect a Chinese-appointed Dalai Lama to enjoy legitimacy or respect among Tibetans, China hopes to tighten its grip on religious life inside Tibet while neutralising support in the international community.
In combination with its aggressive rhetoric, China has been engaged in a charm offensive over Tibet. It is cautiously allowing selected foreign journalists, diplomats and politicians into the tightly-controlled Tibet Autonomous Region on highly stage-managed visits. With overt signs of Tibetan resistance suppressed, it hopes to paint a picture of a region enjoying increased prosperity and religious freedom.
Outside China, public support but mixed picture among governments
The Dalai Lama's 80th birthday and foreign travels have reinforced his enduring popularity across the world and helped to keep a spotlight on Tibet. In a welcome display of solidarity, President Obama attended a public event with him for the first time in February. The US government has also been relatively forthright in challenging China over human rights in Tibet over the year.
The British government was widely criticised for its failure to stand up for human rights or mention Tibet when President Xi visited in October. Members of the British government and others have also shunned the Dalai Lama when he has visited their countries – in South Africa’s case, he was refused entry to the country.
China faced humiliation at the United Nations, however, when the Committee Against Torture concluded that torture was still “deeply entrenched” in its criminal justice system.
Campaigning for Tibet
2015 has seen the launch of a number of major campaigns by Free Tibet, including the Hosting a Dragon campaign challenging Chinese propaganda in Western schools, our Robed Resisters campaign, focussing on imprisoned monks and nuns and our new Stop Torture in Tibet campaign. We also challenged politicians to meet the Dalai Lama and were at the forefront of protests and campaigning when Xi visited the UK.
Free Tibet was also one of the leaders of the international campaign to stop China winning the 2022 Winter Olympics. Having been clear favourite last year, China won only very narrowly and the campaign generated headlines across the world.
Those campaigns have led to global media coverage for Tibet and thousands of people taking action online. They’ve also generated messages of political support for Tibet and embarrassed leaders unwilling to do the same. The Committee Against Torture raised many of the issues we had raised in our evidence and lobbying in its damning report on China in December. In November, the EU challenged China over its torture record after Free Tibet supporters contacted them to press for action.
Free Tibet has also continued to bring vital news from Tibet to the eyes and ears of the world through the international media and seen an astonishing growth in our online presence, with our stories about Tibet reaching more than 20 million people on Facebook this year.
See images from our campaigns and activities in the slideshow below.
Free Tibet will continue to do campaign against China’s rule over Tibet and challenge those outside China who fail to oppose it. We will ensure that the truth about the occupation and news of the struggle of the Tibetan people for freedom reaches millions more people across the world. While we cannot predict what shape that struggle will take in 2016, it will, as ever, continue to inspire and drive our work.
Thank you for all your support for Tibet this year. We wish you Happy Holidays and a successful 2016.