The failed 10-year armed resistance against the Chinese communist takeover of Tibet caused the Dalai Lama to flee into exile to India in 1959. Tens of thousands of Tibetans followed. The government of India created settlements for Tibetan exiles across the subcontinent where they created farming communities, built monasteries and have worked throughout the decades to bring their plight and culture to the world stage.
Fast forward fifty-five years later, the Tibetan diaspora, while still headquartered in India, is scattered worldwide.
The Chinese regime still accuses exiled Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, of stoking dissent against its rule. Harassment of exiled Tibetans by the Chinese regime extends even to the shores of America.
Newsweek’s Jeff Stein in his article “How China Keeps Tabs on Tibetan Exiles” illustrates such harassment with an office scene from 2008 when Tibetans gathered in San Francisco to protest the Beijing Olympic games:
“All the phones started ringing at once, she remembers: Beep-beep, chimes, brrring! About 20 people in a room in San Francisco were getting calls…. “Hello? Hello?” Strange voices then came from some of the phones, men with Chinese accents talking nonsense or ordering pizza.
Then ..the horrifying sound of screams. “It sounded like people being tortured,” recalls Lhadon Tethong, a leading activist for Tibetan independence. She eventually decided the screams were fake, recordings maybe from a horror movie.
But for the older people in the room that day in 2008 in San Francisco, those with personal memories of China’s brutal repression of Tibet, those screams were a harrowing reminder that no matter how far they moved away, the long arm of China could reach into their lives.”
With the assistance of The University of Toronto Citizen Lab, the phone hack attack, which made the phone system unusable for three days, was sourced definitively to China .
Tethong spends much of her time warning exiles about China-based Internet attacks, to be careful about opening emails especially when there are activities regarding the birthday of the Dalai Lama, gatherings to mark the March 10th, 1959 Tibet uprising, or during times when there is a visiting Chinese dignitary; as surveillance is heightened and exiles are more prone to open email messages exposing their computers to malware. Hackers can then harvest contact files, activate the computer camera and microphone, and if a smartphone is compromised, even track ones movements and utilize the microphone.
Physical intimidation is also frequently used. Chinese agents show up at exile events to take pictures of participants.
Some impersonate journalists, or drive by in vehicles with diplomatic plates to take digital photos or surveillance video of the activists.
Gabriel Feinstein a board member of the Tibetan National Congress observed a man taking pictures of demonstrators at a protest in New York in 2012. He stated to Jeff Stein of Newsweek, “the man followed me and my colleagues from Times Square all the way to Chelsea.”
In Toronto, Feinstein stated to Newsweek that he and a friend was, “followed by two Chinese nationals throughout the city, [from] my hotel room all the way to the airport.” ..”I put distance between the individual and myself, even double-backing to pass the person in question – and was still followed.” He says this caused his friend, “great psychological trauma.”
He later discovered that the man was paid by the Chinese diplomatic mission in New York.
Concerning such incidents here in the U.S., Mr. I.C. Smith, a retired FBI China expert said of Beijing’s pursuit of the Tibetans, “They’re very aggressive”.
For Tibetan exiles who have families in Tibet, the harassment and surveillance is a serious concern. Those who are granted re-entry for family visits often discover that the Chinese regime authorities have thick files documenting all their activities in the United States. Tethong stated to Newsweek, “They are confronted, and their families are intimidated by authorities into getting them to stop their political activities overseas.”
Next, Part III: A Culture in Exile Flourishes