Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) works in solidarity with the Tibetan people in their struggle for freedom and independence. We are a chapter-based network of young people and activists around the world. Through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action, we campaign for Tibetans’ fundamental right to political freedom. Our role is to empower and train youth as leaders in the worldwide movement for social justice.
In our work for Tibetan independence we also aim to inspire and enable people, especially youth, to create a just and equitable world, free of oppression, in which there is respect for the earth and all living things.
We believe every individual has the right to be free. Those who enjoy freedom have the power and also the responsibility to make positive change in the world. We seek to create opportunities to inspire, enable and motivate all people to see that change is possible. We value creativity in every pursuit and we believe it is essential to have fun while working towards our vision of a just and equitable world.
The achievements of Students for a Free Tibet show that nonviolent action does work.
Dorjee was born in a Tibetan refugee settlement in India. He graduated from MS University in Gujarat with a Bachelors in Economics and Post Graduate Diploma in Human Rights Studies, and developed his skills as a trainer at the Tibetan Center for Conflict Resolution before joining the staff of Students for a Free Tibet India in 2009. He served as SFT India’s National Director for four years, before joining SFT International in 2013. A keen strategist and media spokesperson, Dorjee has trained hundreds of Tibetan and Indian students through SFT’s Youth Leadership Training program. After graduating from the Lhakar Academy Tibetan School of Leadership and Change in 2011, he returned as a guest trainer the following two years. In 2016, Dorjee was elected as a Member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile.
Pema was born and raised in London and is a recognizable face in the UK and Europe for her years of Tibet activism. As SFT UK’s National Coordinator from 2007, she helped develop and strengthen the Tibetan youth movement in the UK and Europe before moving to New York to join SFT International in 2013 as the Grassroots Director and then Deputy Director. She played a key role in the UK’s Olympics campaign coordination for the Beijing games and has organized and taken part in many direct actions around the world since, including in Beijing, London, Brisbane, New York City, Athens, Cannes and Geneva.
Urgyen has been active with SFT since 2007, starting as an intern at the SFT Canada office and shortly joining SFT Canada’s Board of Directors. He started as SFT Canada’s National Director in 2011 and since then has organized numerous direct actions, led successful national and international campaigns – the most notable being the shutdown of China’s Confucius Institute in the Toronto district. He has also led grassroots trainings around the world, and has over the course of four years built public and governmental support in Canada for Tibet. He graduated with a Design Degree in 2010 from OCAD University in Toronto. In 2016, Ugen joined SFT’s international team as the Campaigns Director.
Sonamtso has been a lifelong activist, organizer, and leader with the Tibetan freedom movement. She has been deeply involved with SFT since 2009, while in high school, and revitalized youth activism in California in 2013 when she became a regional coordinator for SFT. In addition to the Tibet cause, Sonamtso has been engaged in solidarity work with other Bay Area communities similarly working to end state violence and discrimination and secure human rights and democracy. Along with having a passion for social justice, Sonamtso enjoys playing soccer and other outdoor activities. Sonamtso received her Bachelor of Science in Management from University of California, Merced.
Gaychey was born to a Tibetan refugee family in Kathmandu, Nepal. He did his schooling in Darjeeling, India, and moved to Toronto, Canada, when he was 15. He graduated with a Graphic Design advanced diploma from Humber College. He has been active with SFT since 2007, volunteering and interning at the SFT Canada office. Gaychey was one of the key organizers and media coordinators during the 2008 Tibet direct action at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa. In 2012, he took part in a month-long intensive training at Lhakar Academy, the Tibetan School for Leadership and Change. As a graphic designer, Gaychey hopes to use his skills and talents to contribute to the overall aesthetics of SFT’s brand and campaigns.
Sonam is a strong, passionate and dynamic Tibetan activist who believes in the power of youth and strategic non-violence. She is finishing her studies in International Development at York University in Toronto, with a Bachelor’s Degree with Honours. Sonam’s love and involvement with Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) started early on at the York University SFT chapter in 2010 during her first year of undergraduate studies. Since then, she has been involved in various conferences, chapter retreats, trainings as well as the Free Tibet Action Camp in Germany in 2013. Sonam has been a proud resident of Parkdale, also known as ‘Little Tibet,’ for the past 16 years. As a former student of the Tibetan performing arts, nowadays, every Sunday, she instructs young students in both traditional and contemporary Tibetan Performing Arts at the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre. Sonam is also passionate about education, social innovation, and gender equality in Tibet and one day hopes to play a role to tackle these issues in a Free and Independent Tibet.
Ellen joined SFT in 2013 after attending her first Free Tibet! Action Camp in Germany. She started an SFT chapter at the London School of Economics (LSE) the year after, and volunteered at the UK office, helping with chapter visits, lobbying, and organising the annual conference before starting as the National Co-ordinator in March 2016. Within the first 5 months at SFT-UK, Ellen has built strong relationships with the Tibetan Community in Britain and campaign strategy planning with key Tibet NGO’s in the UK. Ellen received her Bachelor of Law and Anthropology from London School of Economics.
Tselha was born to a Tibetan refugee family in Ladakh. She did her schooling from Tibetan Children’s Village school in India. She did her Bachelors in Education from Punjab University, after which she completed her Masters in English Literature from Pune University, where she founded SFT-Pune chapter. She was a participant in SFT-India’s Free Tibet! Action Camp in 2010, and took intensive climb action training at Action Camp in 2013. She joined Students for a Free Tibet-India as the Grassroots Director in 2013, and has traveled extensively across India visiting our chapters, holding numerous trainings, and inspiring youth nationwide.
Students for a Free Tibet was founded in New York City in 1994 by a group of Tibetans and young students and supporters. The concept of SFT was borne from the understanding of the critical role students and young people have played in freedom struggles throughout history.
Since that time, SFT has grown into an international network of students and non-students in more than 35 countries. Today, we have more than 650 high school, university and community chapters and four full-time staff at our Headquarters in New York, and staff at our National offices in India and Canada.
On October 15, despite heavy security, SFT India successfully parachuted a giant banner reading “Free Tibet” on the popular Western Coast of Goa, where the BRICS Summit was held and attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Major international summits provide critical opportunities for challenging China’s occupation of Tibet. Our direct action shamed and created a spotlight on Xi Jinping and China’s hardline policies inside Tibet. When the last thing China wants is any mention of “Tibet” during such a high-stakes summit, with our actions, we were able to make “Tibet” a media focus.
We are excited to report that respected teacher and social worker, Khenpo Kartse was released from prison in July. While we know this isn’t freedom yet, as Chinese authorities continue to surveil, harass, and isolate political prisoners even after they are released, we are happy that he can be with his family and community again. Since the day we found out about Khenpo’s arrest in 2013, we have worked to build an international campaign spotlighting Khenpo’s case. We believe, that faced with the potential of a life sentence, our collective international efforts in the early stages played a crucial role in securing a relatively short two and a half year sentence. We are happy that Khenpo Kartse is out of prison and we will continue to monitor his health and circumstances.
On June 15, the late Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was posthumously awarded the Democracy Service Medal by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington, D.C. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the 2010 recipient of the Medal, was the guest of honor at the event along with Members of Congress and Sikyong Lobsang Sangay. SFT’s staff accompanied Geshe Jamyang Nyima, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s cousin and family spokesperson, who received the award on Rinpoche’s behalf, recognizing and honoring his monumental contributions to the Tibetan people.
While the CCP has intensified its divide-and-rule strategies to erode international support for Tibet and the Dalai Lama, SFT has been working on lobbying like-minded governments to join forces and coordinate their efforts to take joint action for Tibet. Since we launched our widely shared ‘Tibet Solution’ video, the Tibetan Freedom Movement has embraced the concept of a multilateral approach to solve the Tibet crisis. In February, in a rare act, embassies of the USA, the EU, Germany, Japan, and Canada sent a joint letter of concern to the Chinese government over draconian new laws governing counter-terrorism, cyber security, and foreign NGOs operating in China. Also, in a major development in our ‘Unite for Tibet’ campaign, the United States and 11 other countries issued an unprecedented joint statement on March 10, during the United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva. We truly believe our collective efforts at the UN have lead to these groundbreaking joint actions and we look forward to the future successes of our continued work.
China’s wide-scale demolition plan for Larung Gar, the world’s largest Buddhist institute, located in Tibet, could not go unchecked. Knowing that this destruction would evict and displace at least half of the 10,000+ residents, SFT responded by launching the #StandWithLarungGar campaign and mobilizing people around the world. Our international grassroots members and networks from 17 countries took part in our Global Day of Action on October 19, with participation from cities like Boston, Dharamsala, London, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, Vienna, and Washington, DC.
We also saw public statements of support from US Representatives McGovern and Pitts, and Canadian Member of Provincial Parliament Cheri DiNovo, among others. The wide range of support is evident by our campaign being endorsed by international human rights groups, as well as religious institutes, and Taiwanese, Chinese, Kalmyk, and Mongolian organizations.
SFT organized Free Tibet! Action Camp XVII at Menla Mountain Retreat Center in Phoenicia, New York from June 20 – 26. SFT staff joined movement leaders, workshop trainers, guest speakers, and volunteers in providing a full-scale Free Tibet! Action Camp. Through an intensive week of training and discussion, we were able to equip participants with the knowledge, tools, and networks necessary to become stronger Tibet activists in their respective communities. This year’s Action Camp brought together 32 participants, welcoming folks from Taiwan, Austria, Canada, Chile, India, Nepal, and across the USA.
In July, 2016, Nyima Lhamo, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s niece fled Tibet and arrived in Dharamsala, India. In a press conference in Dharamsala, she made this statement: “I came out of Tibet to speak out to the world about Tulku Tenzin Delek. I urge China to reveal the true circumstances that led to Rinpoche’s death and I hope that China’s allegations against Rinpoche be thoroughly investigated.”
Since Nyima Lhamo’s arrival, SFT Asia Director Dorjee Tseten has supported her in coordinating international media, translations, preparing messaging, and her testimony for the UN. SFT, as a part of the Tibet Advocacy Coalition, was able to organize a meeting with the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Torture to testify for her uncle’s case, the 13 years of torture he suffered, his suspicious death in Chinese detention, and her own persecution by the Chinese government.
On February 17, after being arbitrarily detained for almost a year, 32-year-old Tibetan writer and intellectual, Druklo (penname Shokjang) was sentenced to three years in Chinese prison. His only ‘crime’ was writing courageously about the effects of China’s policies in Tibet. We immediately launched the website FreeShokjang.org and created a petition calling on leaders of the G20 countries to publicly raise Shokjang’s case with the Chinese government and ask for his immediate release. On May 3, ‘World Press Freedom Day’ we launched a ‘Global Day of Action’ to mobilize grassroots support for his case and on November 15, ‘International Day of Imprisoned Writer,’ we teamed up with Pen America, Human Rights China, and Uyghur American Association to engage in a multi-organizational push to highlight the extent of China’s blatant repression of freedom of expression and press. Today, Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and PEN International are among the numerous respected human rights groups who join us in amplifying Shokjang’s voice and calling on his immediate release.
On September 23, our India network hosted a seminar titled ‘Damming Crisis in Tibet: Threat to Water Security in Asia’, bringing together panelists and participants from India, Bangladesh, Tibet, Thailand, the USA, Switzerland and Germany – the very first of its kind. Over 150 participants from key stakeholders in Asia’s rivers were in attendance, including environmentalists, activists, researchers, media, and embassy officials representing the USA, Switzerland and Germany. The seminar secured wide media coverage in The Indian Express, Business Insider and Voice of America. The rivers campaign has created new cross-sections between the Tibetan Freedom Movement and the global movement for environmental protection.
Visit SaveTibetanRivers.org for details.
This year, we commemorated February 13, Tibetan Independence Day with the theme of ‘Reclaim Tibet’ to highlight the historical map of Tibet and to expose the map of China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region that almost entirely ignores the Tibetan provinces of Kham and Amdo. ‘Reclaim Tibet’ became viral in the Tibetan world, with over 12,000 people taking action to reclaim Tibet within weeks of the launch of our website: ReclaimTibet.com.
‘Reclaim Tibet’ highlighted how the 2008 Uprising, spreading to all three traditional provinces, reasserted the territorial map of Tibet.
SFT helped coordinate the 8th Annual Tibet Lobby Day from February 29 – March 1 in Washington, DC. Over 100 Tibetans and supporters from across the country, many of whom are SFT members, took part in this event and met with Members of Congress and staffers of over 120 offices. In our meetings, we sought continued and increased support by raising awareness about the current situation in Tibet, and asked Representatives to take action by signing onto the ‘Reciprocal Access to Tibet’ bill (H.R. 1112), among other things. This particular legislation would restrict Chinese leaders’ access to the United States, thus holding them “accountable” if China continues to ban US citizens access to Tibet, including officials, diplomats, and journalists planning to assess the human rights situation.
As part of building wider and diverse support for our Say “No” to Confucius Institute (CI) campaign, SFT presented our victories and future plans on CI at the International Tibet Support Group Conference in Brussels. The conference is an important space for Tibet activists and leaders to come together to skillshare, engage in detailed strategic planning, and implement global campaigns. This particular conference brought over 250 prominent activists together from across the world. Our presentation was met with overwhelming support and was voted the number one campaign for groups to implement. We look forward to continuing our engagement with these groups in an effort to stop CI propaganda and censorship.
Out of fear of what China might think, Marvel removed the Tibetan identity of one of its main characters in their new film, Doctor Strange. Named ‘Ancient One,’ the originally Tibetan character in the comics, was replaced by Tilda Swinton in the film. Responding to concerns about the identity change, screenwriter C. Robert Cargill gave this problematic statement: “[Ancient One] originates from Tibet. So if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bulls—t and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.” In response to this, SFT organized a protest outside a Manhattan movie theater, which was covered by NBC Asia America and BuzzFeed, to convey to Mr. Cargill that Tibetans and Tibet do exist in spite of China’s occupation.
In July, China held a state-controlled Kalachakra led by the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, Gyaincain Norbu, while Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, appointed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama continues to be a prisoner of more than 21 years. Authorities reportedly went as far as making it mandatory for each Tibetan household to send two members to the Chinese government’s Kalachakra. In response to China’s attempt to exert political and social control over Tibetans through sacred religious rituals, which are an integral part of Tibetan life, SFT held an event in Dharamsala and a virtual counter-event titled “A Kalachakra by Tibet’s Panchen Lama – Our Vision” at the same time as the ‘fake’ Kalachakra prayer was enforced in Tibet by Chinese Communist Regime. SFT also released a new animated video in honor of his 27th birthday as a way to counter China’s propaganda. The moving video, addressed to the Panchen Lama, exposes China’s abduction of the 6-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and urges supporters to sign the petition calling for his release. The video was widely shared with more than 63,000 views.
SFT’s #TibetFlagChallenge went viral, with participants from at least 48 cities in 18 countries showcasing the Tibetan flag in their own unique ways. This challenge was in commemoration of the third annual Tibetan Independence Day, on February 13, 2015. The flag, which is banned in Tibet and China, is an enduring symbol of the Tibetan people’s struggle for freedom and independence, and through the #TibetFlagChallenge, participants were able to secure this symbol in our efforts to shape our future of a free Tibet.
SFT organized the first-ever “Free Tibet! Action Camp” in Australia at The Karuna Centre in Sydney, Australia. With a growing community of Tibetans from Tibet and India who are former political prisoners or family of political prisoners, Australia provided an incredible opportunity to empower and strengthen the Tibetan community’s activism and enhance their skill set and seed knowledge of critical strategies, tools and tactics. The week-long leadership training program was attended by 33 participants – Tibetans originally from Tibet and India, and youth from across Australia, India, Taiwan, Thailand and Lithuania.
On July 12, we received the tragic news of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death under suspicious circumstances in Chinese prison. SFT responded immediately by coordinating with Rinpoche’s family in Tibet through the help of Geshe Nyima (Rinpoche’s cousin and family spokesperson in Dharamshala, India) and putting pressure on the Chinese government by spotlighting Rinpoche’s death through articles on Reuters, the New York Times, Associated Press and other media outlets.
We held a memorial and tribute to celebrate Rinpoche’s life and achievements and to re-energize the work – Tibetan rights, environmental protection, promotion of Tibetan religion and culture – that he spent 13 years in prison for. A new website, justicefortenzin.org was launched, a 6-city “Tenzin Delek Lives” speaking tour with Geshe Nyima and SFT Asia Director, Dorjee Tseten was organized, and all this momentum led to a show of force in Washington, DC during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state visit. (see on other page)
A week before Xi Jinping’s first state visit to Washington, DC, on September 25th, SFT’s Pema Yoko and Tibet Action Institute’s Lhadon Tethong confronted Guo Weimin, the Vice Minister of China’s State Council Information Office (propaganda arm of the Politburo), at Xi Jinping’s book launch. In the packed bookstore, Pema and Lhadon publicly asked about the legitimacy of Xi’s book and whether it contained the Tibetan self-immolations or the detention of Chinese lawyers. The video of the book store confrontation has already been viewed more than 78,000 times on facebook.
On the day of the Xi Jinping’s Washington DC visit, on September 25, our protest in front of the White House was loud enough to be heard during the live telecast of the press conference. As people around the world tuned to watch the press conference, they could hear our “Free Tibet” chants in the background as President Obama and Xi spoke. President Obama publicly raised Tibet with Xi when he said, “we continue to encourage Chinese authorities to preserve the religious and cultural identity of the Tibetan people and to engage the Dalai Lama or his representatives.”
For the second year in a row, SFT-Canada received the 2015 NOW Magazine Best of Toronto Readers Choice Poll for “Best Activist Group with a Non-Local Cause”.
The Chinese government backed Confucius Institute (CI) at the Stuttgart Media University in Germany was shut down in June, marking the first shutdown of its kind in Germany following the April 23rd launch of SFT’s global “Say No to China’s Confucius Institutes” campaign, urging educational institutions to terminate ties to Confucius Institutes in order to protect our students from China’s propaganda on Tibet. This is the 9th closure of the Chinese government backed program worldwide since 2004.
SFT organized a celebration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday with music, art and poetry to honor his monumental contributions and to encourage people to join the struggle for Tibetan freedom. We created postcards that were mailed out to our supporters, featuring the painting “80 Portraits” by Tibetan artist Ngawang Jorden.
SFT-India’s new campaign, ‘Tibet’s Rivers, Asia’s Lifeline’ was launched on March 22, World Water Day. It highlights the crisis caused by China’s damming and diversion of Tibet’s rivers and pollution from mining, which impacts 2 billion people in downstream countries. The campaign launched a petition calling on the leaders of downstream countries to jointly call for a Trans-boundary Water Sharing Treaty to protect Tibet’s rivers and save Asia’s lifeline.
This year saw stronger lobbying at the United Nations as we authored and submitted a report to the United Nations Committee against Torture and held a side event at the United Nations in Geneva during the Human Rights Council Session, which was attended by various UN diplomats, highlighting the Chinese government’s systematic use of torture in Tibetan prisons and spotlighting Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s unjust death in Chinese custody. We received confirmation from UN Special Rapporteur against Torture, Juan Mendez that he would send a letter to the Chinese government inquiring about the circumstances around Rinpoche’s death.
Where is Tibet? Why should you help Tibet regain its freedom? What is Tibet like? What really happened when China invaded Tibet? Here is where you can find the answers to some of your questions. Arm yourself with the knowledge you need to be an intelligent freedom fighter!
Tibet lies at the center of Asia, with an area of 2.5 million square kilometers. Encircled by the Earth’s highest mountains, Tibet is a vast, arid plateau with an average altitude of 14,000 feet above sea level. The Tibetan plateau has unique and exceptional ecosystems. The headwaters of Asia’s major rivers originate on the Tibetan plateau, which supply 85% of the population of Asia with water—approximately 47% of the world’s population.
Tibet is comprised of the three provinces of Amdo, Kham, and U-Tsang. Amdo is now split by China into the provinces of Qinghai and part of Gansu. Kham is largely incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan, and U-Tsang, together with western Kham, is today referred to by China as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
The TAR comprises less than half of historic Tibet and was created by China in 1965 for administrative reasons. It is important to note that when Chinese officials and publications use the term “Tibet” they are referring only to TAR.
Tibetans use the term Tibet to mean the three provinces described above, the area traditionally known as Tibet before the invasion in 1949-50.
Despite over 60 years of Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Tibetan people refuse to be conquered and subjugated by China. The present Chinese policy—a combination of demographic and economic manipulation and discrimination—aims to suppress the Tibetan issue by changing the very character and the identity of Tibet and its people.
Today, Tibetans are outnumbered by Chinese in their own homeland.