Chemi Lhamo explaining the stories of Yeshe Choedon, Lhamo, Go Shera Gyatso, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, at the Oslo Freedom Forum 2022. Photo: file

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Oslo, Norway — “Tibet continues in various forms of violence, from political oppression to social, and economic discrimination, cultural and religious suppression, environmental destructions, the Chinese government spends billions of dollars every year to try control and infiltrate our communities, intimidate us, and silence our calls for freedom,” said Chemi Lhamo, the Tibetan activist at the Oslo Freedom Forum 2022.

On May 25, 2022, Tibetan activist and human rights advocate Chemi Lhamo shared her story and the stories of Tibetans imprisoned for simply exercising their human rights in Tibet at the Oslo Freedom Forum 2022, with the title of Champion of Change, in Oslo, Norway.

At the forum, Chemi Lhamo showed a video of Tibetans crossing the Himalayan mountains to escape India under China's brutal rule in 2006, in which a Tibetan is shot by the Chinese military on the way, and she explained that thousands of Tibetans escaped on foot from the Himalayas to Nepal, then India, and now, because of high-tech surveillance methods, only a few Tibetans manage to get through the increased Chinese patrols, even on the highest windswept passes.

“International community, including governmental representatives, journalists, aids agencies can not enter Tibet, Tibetans inside Tibet are not able to leave the Tibet, Tibetans in Exile like me, I can not go back home, nor can I have contact with family members back home in Tibet,” she continues.

“The Chinese government has by design locked Tibet down to the point, that is passed few years, Tibet has ranked the lease free place, politically, and civil liberties by Human Rights Watchdog, Freedom House,” Chemi explained.

“The occupation, colonization, and annexation of my homeland, Tibet is continues in various forms of violence, from political oppression to social, and economic discrimination, cultural and religious suppression, and environmental destructions. Millions of Tibetan nomads have been displaced and forced into isolated homes, with little to no access to a viable livelihood. 80 percent of Tibetan children, even as young as four years old, are stripped away from their parents and forced to attend colonised state-run boarding schools, they are being forced to learn and think, even dream in Chinese, instead of Tibetan,” the activist said. “Such political indoctrination is truly cradle to the grave system, all try to eliminate our Tibetan identity, the very Tibetan identity while growing up, I could not make sense or grasp because of the pain and experiences of being displaced not once, but twice but multiple times and having transnational families,” she mentioned.

“My grandparents fled from the Chinese regime in 1959, along with 80,000 other Tibetans that followed our spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama into Exile, and for me, I was born in South India as a stateless refugee. Within our settlement camps, there was often saying that whenever a young one dreamt big, said things like someday, I am going to become a world leader or a beacon of hope. Community members remind us that there was big R (refugee) on our forehead, despite living in privilege compared to our relatives back home, opportunities and resources were limited,” Chemi explained.

“I got a stark reminder of my identity in 2019, when I ran to become my student president in my University, there was a petition signed by 11 thousand signatures within days, saying that, I did not deserve to run because of my Tibetan spirit, I received thousands of threats most likely crafted by the Chinese embassy, of course, but there are death threats, rape threats, they constantly surveil me, take pictures, sometimes, even follow me into the washrooms, but one that still to this day gets me choked up thinking about is reading personal messages that said, "your mom is dead," I remember having to call my mother in the middle of the day checking in on her, but telling her everything was fine on my end because even in Exile, they (Chinese) come to silence us,” she said.

“Chinese government spends billions of dollars annually to try and control, and infiltrate our communities to try and intimidate us, to try to sell their narrative and their propaganda, and silence our calls for freedom. However that only adds to the constant reminder that I have of my responsibility,” she further said.

Showing a video of her with two other activists, protesting during the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame, in Pyrgos, Greece, on October 20, 2021, she says, “later this year, we will be facing charges of attempting to pollute, damage, and distort a historical monument in greek court, a charge that can lend us up to five years of imprisonment for simply holding a banner and asking one question. When in reality the destruction of historical monuments happens inside Tibet every day. After this protest, we spent three days and two nights in jail, but ultimately we got to return home. Unlike Yeshe Choedon, who was a retired medical doctor and is still to this day detained for protesting the 2008 Olympics. Lhamo, who died in the Chinese prison for sending money to her relatives abroad, and thousands of other prolific Tibetans such as Go Shera Gyatso, who are imprisoned for peacefully expressing his views, did not get to go home, and neither did our Gendun Choekyi Nyima, 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet, who is the world’s youngest political prisoner at age of six-year-old, and has not been seen for 27 years.”

“Even those who do not live in prison walls, but they live in an open-air prison, Tibetans inside Tibet have resorted to self-immolation, an act of burning oneself on fire, calling for two things, one, the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and two, need of basic Human Rights. It’s been 63 long years since my people have not been home,” the young Tibetan woman said. ”I stand here today, not just a young Tibetan woman, Chemi Lhamo, I stand here with the spirits of my ancestors, I stand here with the spirits of the Tibetans inside of Tibet. 63 years ago in 1959, they rose in numbers and swore to protect their land, I stand here today with the spirits of the Tibetans inside Tibet, who get imprisoned for simply holding this flag (Tibetan National flag). So, remember, that big R on my forehead, they are right, there is R on my forehead, but that R just not stand for refugee, it stands for resistance, and resilience, and responsibility,” she said.

“The responsibility that every one of you here today has, to use the opportunities, the privileges to be able to succeed, to engage in meaningful dialogue and ensure that the voice inside of Tibet and every other oppressed people is being amplified and heard by the entire world. Because my friends, the work is still not done, and if we do not reclaim and remember our stories, who will,” the activist said.

Finally, she asked the public and individuals to break UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet's silence on Tibet, saying, "High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet is currently visiting China, but in her four years in office, she has not even uttered the word, Tibet. Tweet her @mbachelete, ask her to break her silence on Tibet, ask her about colonial state-run boarding schools and ask her where our Panchen Lama is."

The Oslo Freedom Forum is a global conference series produced by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), that brings together the world’s most engaging human rights advocates, journalists, artists, tech entrepreneurs, and world leaders to share their stories and brainstorm ways to expand freedom and unleash human potential across the globe.