Biggest survey on Tibet knowledge reveals China information black-out having huge, damaging impact

Friday, 7 July 2017

A significant crowd-funded campaign has paid for the largest survey ever undertaken into public awareness on Tibet and living conditions in the vast, occupied nation.

The detailed research across four English-speaking countries suggests a significant decline in understanding around the human rights situation within Tibet, and lifts the lid on a worrying lack of knowledge about the area generally.

Thousands of participants in the UK, the US, Australia and Canada were questioned by respected research consultancy ComRes (1) with the results helping shine a light on the current levels of concern shared by members of the public about Tibet.

One series of questions sought to gauge the extent to which people knew about Tibet and its political circumstances: While the majority of people did know that it is a country in Asia, less than 20% correctly identify that it is occupied by the Chinese military. Age was also an important factor – people 55+ were far more likely to know about Tibet than those aged under 34.

Meanwhile, a surprising 6% of Canadians said they thought Tibet was a mountain in Asia, while the same proportion in the UK thought the land-locked nation was a city.

The survey – commissioned by pressure group Free Tibet (2) – and involving 4,000 adults in the respective English-speaking nations (3) – suggests that exposure to news stories about Tibet is low. Half of adults in the US (51%) say that they haven’t see any coverage of Tibet in the past 12 months, compared to 45% in the UK. This has very real consequences for those struggling to survive in one the world’s least-free nations. (4)

Chinese authorities maintain a water-tight security operation in Tibet and the flow of news is extremely limited, but the information that does trickle out is shocking: Arrests and lengthy sentences for possessing the banned Tibetan flag; Tibetans held and tortured in detention in secret locations with no legal recourse; Tibetans facing prison terms of 15 years for speaking with international media; Large-scale demolitions of religious sites and the forcible removal of thousands of nomads from their traditional lands (5)(6)(7).

The new data suggests that many people, especially the young, tend not to know about the political and human rights situation in Tibet, or even what Tibet is, simply because they are not hearing about it.

But the poll offers a few rays of light: Those who had read even a small number of stories about Tibet tended to show a robust understanding of the situation there and in turn felt concerned by the plight of its people. (8)

The wide-reaching survey also suggests that the majority of respondents empathise with the appalling circumstances dictating much of modern Tibetan life. When asked, respondents listed the detention of people without charge as being the worst condition they could imagine living under, this was followed by people being sent to prison for criticising the government and being tortured in prison (54%, 37% and 35% of UK adults, for example, with similar results elsewhere). All three of these human rights abuses are day-to-day realities in Tibet.

Worryingly over half of British adults (52%) indicated that trade should take precedence over protecting human rights overseas. The fact China is now the world’s second-biggest economy is of concern to campaigners given that UK politicians may be tempted to turn a blind-eye to China’s human rights abuses in Tibet in order to bolster valuable financial deals. With the UK government increasingly seeking global trading partners worldwide in the aftermath of Brexit, even ‘far away’ Tibet may feel the negative effects of the decision.

In a bid to meet the challenge of bolstering public awareness about Tibet, Free Tibet is using 2017 – the 30th anniversary of its founding (10) – to carry out an extensive programme of public outreach through events and festivals. This campaign aims to remind people of Tibet’s natural beauty, its unique culture and dramatic history as well as its brutal present-day reality. (11)

Free Tibet said: “This research proves again that knowledge is power. By enforcing a lock-down on the flow of information from Tibet, China is seeking to cover up its abuses in Tibet while trying to convince the wider world that things in Tibet are fine. Yet, as we have seen, where information is available, people are shocked by what they see in Tibet and they become equipped to challenge Beijing’s false narrative and are moved to take action. Free Tibet’s campaigns – from online petitions through to street-level protests to lobbying governments – are a direct response to the on-going ill-treatment of the Tibetan people in Tibet. The crimes being committed against the Tibetan people must not be hidden or overlooked; they must be challenged head on.”

• For more information (including full poll results and Executive Report) contact John Jones / Sam Wylde on 0207 324 4619 or email: john@freetibet.org / sam@freetibet.org