I can remember when 2017 seemed so far away. A few years ago I’d been given a packet of photographs by one of the Tibet Watch researchers. As we went through them together it was clear that they were old but we weren’t sure exactly what we were looking at, so we took them to our friends at Gu Chu Sum. After talking to Ven. Ngawang Woeber (a monk and former political prisoner who had previously been president of Gu Chu Sum) we discovered that we were looking at photos from the uprising in Lhasa in the late 1980s. He had been personally involved in the protests and could even identify the majority of the people in the photos.
Many of the images had never been published before. In fact, some of them still haven’t been because it would be risky for the people in the photos or for their families. Tibet Watch is always very careful about security. As we sat and talked about the photos and the people and their stories, I realised that this was information which we should definitely share with the world. I also realised that we were a few years away from the 30th anniversary of the first protest - 2017. It seemed like a long way away, but we thought it was worth waiting for that hook. So we waited.
This year we finally got to release those photos and wrote a detailed report to go along with them (I wrote about it in my blog back in October). The press conference to announce the release went very well, we had a public event in Dharamsala and the report and photos were also exhibited at London Tibetfest.
This year was not only the 30th anniversary of the Lhasa protests, but also the 30th anniversary of the founding of Free Tibet – which is why we put on Tibetfest (our biggest event ever) and did so much extra outreach this year.
In addition to all that, this year we also launched a brand new campaign called In The Dark, focusing on the victims of forced disappearances. We continued our work campaigning for Larung Gar, even commisioning a satellite to photograph the site, and released a fantastic new report on our findings. We launched a campaign to highlight Liverpool Football Club's unethical new sponsorship deal with Tibet Water Resources Ltd, which made it all the way to huge media outlets such as CNN and The Independent. We campaigned for freedom for the Panchen Lama, attended and campaigned at four music festivals, and placed Tibet-related stories in the mainstream media.
Honestly, it’s been exhausting but we’ve achieved so much that I can’t look back on this past year with anything other than immense pride in the Free Tibet and Tibet Watch team. Now it’s nearly Christmas and the anniversary events that we spent so long planning are over. But instead of sitting back and reflecting we’re actually getting ready for the next one.
The next milestone is 10 March 2018 – the 10th anniversary of the 2008 uprising. Despite the brutal crackdown, the spark of resistance which was lit that year was never fully extinguished. Instead, we’ve seen a decade of protests and creative resistance in so many different forms. Inside Tibet, the desire for freedom is stronger than ever as new generations take up the fight.
2017 has been a busy and active year in many respects. Back in January I joined tens of thousands who took to the streets of London for the Women’s March and that seemed to set the tone for the year. From Venezuela to Togo, people have been taking to the streets in countries around the world to protest for what they believe in and to make their voices heard. As their ‘person of the year’ for 2017, Time magazine choose The Silence Breakers, the women behind the #MeToo movement and the campaign against sexual harassment.
Tibet has been no less active. We have, very sadly, seen a number of self-immolation protests this year. However, we have also seen examples of cultural resistance, including the creation of National Calligraphy Day to celebrate Tibetan language and writing.
I have mixed feelings about the upcoming 2008 anniversary when I think about how it might be marked inside Tibet. It could be exciting and dramatic but the thought of protests in Tibet is always coupled with deep concern about China’s reaction. Beijing isn’t exactly known for being proportionate in its response to dissent. But we’ll be ready to shine a spotlight on whatever happens and hopefully the solidarity that we always see around the world on 10th March will be stronger than ever.
But first, Christmas and New Year and a deep breath before the next round.
Thank you to everyone who has helped and supported our work in 2017.
Eleanor is Director of Free Tibet and also of our research partner Tibet Watch. She joined the movement professionally in April 2013, having previously been Director of Casework for legal charity Amicus, where her work focused on the death penalty in the US. With a law degree and an MA in human rights, Eleanor has worked for many other campaigns and projects, including One For Ten, PeaceBrigades International, the Burma Human Rights Documentation Unit and the British Institute of International & Comparative Law. She has been a supporter of Free Tibet since her student days and has supported the Tibetan cause for over 20 years. Read updates from her on Twitter and each month on our blog.