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Press Statement: Uncover Beijing’s Coronavirus Agenda

April 14, 2020 | 0 Comments

For Immediate Release: 8 April, 2020

John Jones, Free Tibet, UK | +44 (0)777 068 1938 | john@freetibet.org
Mandie McKeown, Tibet Network | +44 (0)7748 158 618 | mandie@tibetnetwork.org
Dorjee Tseten, Students for a Free Tibet, [Tibetan, English] +1 (646) 753 3889 | dorjee@studentsforafreetibet.org

Uncover Beijing’s Coronavirus Agenda: Tibetans, Uyghurs and Chinese rights experts expose Beijing’s coronavirus agenda and call for freedom, transparency, and accountability

[London] Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur rights activists [1] have joined together to call on the Chinese government to immediately end its secrecy and repression around the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a live online briefing, the group urged governments and international institutions to press Beijing to adhere to globally accepted standards of transparency and accountability in its reporting and handling of the crisis. They further demanded that Beijing end its crackdown on freedom of speech and freedom of information, and called for the immediate release of those who have been detained for online posts and discussions related to the coronavirus.  

A video recording of the online briefing can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/tt50VOFxH4s The online briefing has been seen by 11.5 thousand viewers on Facebook so far. [2]

The panel discussed the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) three-prong response to the COVID-19 outbreak 1) deflecting responsibility for the crisis 2) extreme censorship of anyone questioning the Party, and 3) widespread manipulation of information by way of a well-documented disinformation campaign. Speaking from personal experience, the panel noted that this repressive strategy is similar to the methods used by the Chinese government to silence dissent and maintain control in Tibet, East Turkestan, and across mainland China. [3] 

“If we look at the situation in Chinese-occupied Tibet prior to the coronavirus, Tibetans were already living in a very repressive environment,” said Kyinzom Dhongdue, Executive Director of Australia Tibet Council. Talking about the three-prong response she added, “Tibetans are all too familiar with China’s tactics of suppression, censorship and manipulation, whether it is the silencing of critical voices, the implementation of draconian measures that infringe on basic human rights or the ramping up of its propaganda machine to distort the truth. 

The panel warned that while the situation has worsened for Tibetans, Chinese activists, and Uyghurs, the impacts of the CCP’s unchecked authoritarianism will continue to be felt by the global community unless it is reined in and the CCP is held to account. Teng Biao, a prominent human rights lawyer and scholar, raised the alarm at how the CCP is employing COVID-19 ‘safety measures’ to strengthen its “high tech totalitarianism,” further stressing how “Beijing’s  coverup of the crisis caused a significant delay in emergency responses leading to a huge loss of life in China, and the global pandemic.”

The group also addressed Beijing’s diplomatic efforts and its rush to proclaim success in its response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Lobsang Gyatso, Tibet Action Institute and Yaqiu Wang, Human Rights Watch, highlighted how the Chinese Communist Party is trying to deflect responsibility for their mishandling of the situation by “launching a full-blown propaganda offensive that has seen Chinese diplomats, state-run media and members of the United Work Front Department spring into action across social media platforms to push manipulated information that shifts the narrative from blame to praise.” 

Dorjee Tseten, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, led a joint call on all governments to ensure that they do not follow the example of the Chinese government by exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to repress, criminalize or impinge on the human rights of their citizens. “The coronavirus outbreak first reported in Wuhan, China has turned into a global crisis with the whole world now paying the price for Beijing’s oppressive rule and closed society. The international community must reject the Chinese government’s model of surveillance, control and manipulation that Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Chinese have suffered under for too long. China must be held accountable for decades of human rights abuses, and we call on our government and global institutions, to come together in solidarity, through this global crisis and in its aftermath, to ensure freedom of speech and human rights are upheld.”

Speaking about the panel, John Jones from Free Tibet, who chaired the discussion, noted: “The original outbreak of COVID-19 and the lives it cost result from the authoritarian and secretive nature of CCP rule. These panellists know CCP rule better than almost anyone in the world today and are able to speak freely about its repressive policies, which even before the outbreak of this virus, have ruined untold millions of lives. Their voices demand attention, for their sake and for ours”.

One such voice is Zumretay Arkin of the World Uyghur Congress, who previously lived under CCP rule. She raised concerns over political prisoners being held by China and the millions of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples being held arbitrarily in internment camps. “There hasn’t been any information about the situation inside the camps since the coronavirus outbreak. Our concern for those detained is now heightened as the lives of millions of Uyghurs who cannot ‘social distance’ for their safety are likely to lead to a catastrophic amount of lives lost.”


Notes to Editor:
1. On the “Uncovering China’s Coronavirus Agenda: Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Chinese activists speak up” panel were:
Dr. Teng Biao, Chinese human rights lawyer and scholar
Kyinzom Dhongdue, Executive Director, Australia Tibet Council 
Zumretay Arkin, Program and Advocacy Manager, World Uyghur Congress
Yaqiu Wang, China researcher, Human Rights Watch
Lobsang Gyatso, Digital Security Program Director for Tibet Action Institute
Dorjee Tseten, Executive Director, Students for a Free Tibet
The panel was charied by John Jones, Campaigns and Advocacy Manager, Free Tibet, and convened by International Tibet Network.
2. See https://www.facebook.com/InternationalTibetNetwork/videos/986786728384049/
3. Read the panel’s full opening statements at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AIqwYyqn88WUuPe3oThrmRQA3ifAO1qaCGpJHq2s6jg/