Golog Jigme Gyatso is one of the most significant Tibetan activists to flee their homeland and seek asylum in the West since the Tibetan Uprising in 2008. His resistance, persecution, torture, and escape from Chinese-occupied Tibet is both a remarkable personal story and a deep insight into Tibet under Chinese rule.
Leaving Fear Behind
Tibetan monk Golog Jigme (born 1972) was arrested in 2008 for helping to make a film in which Tibetans spoke frankly about the Chinese occupation and, at the time, the forthcoming Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Although both he and his fellow filmmaker, Dhondup Wangchen, were jailed before completing the film, it was smuggled out of China, edited, and later screened to journalists in Beijing prior to the Olympics, before being released to the public as ‘Leaving Fear Behind’.
Jailed three times between 2008 and 2012 for his activism, Golog Jigme was brutally tortured, including being chained to the chimney of a burning stove and to an iron chair where he faced beatings and electric shocks. In exile, he told researchers:
“Whenever I remember that chair I feel scared, even to this day. I felt like it would be better to die than survive being tortured on that chair. I was kept on the chair days and nights. At one point, my feet got swollen and, to my horror, all my toenails fell off.”
He was arrested in 2009 for allegedly sharing information with the outside world about the Tibetan Uprising in 2008, and then again in 2012 on a charge of inciting Tibetan self-immolation protests. Believing that he was going to be killed in prison, he managed to escape from jail. While he was on the run, the authorities falsely charged him with murder to spark a nationwide manhunt. However, their efforts failed after many brave Tibetans protected the filmmaker for nearly two years.
He secretly crossed the border to India in May 2014, after twenty months on the run. In 2015, he moved to Switzerland, where he has given testimony to the United Nations and played a key role in the campaign to prevent China from hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Life in exile
Golog Jigme has continued his activism for Tibet since reaching exile, becoming one of the most vocal Tibetan activists in the world. In Switzerland, he has given testimony to the United Nations Human Rights Council. At a demonstration in Lausanne, where Beijing’s Olympic bid committee was presenting at the International Olympics Committee he said:
“I stand here today as a witness of Chinese repression in Tibet. But this is not only about me. Many Tibetan human rights defenders and protestors were jailed and killed in 2008.”
Addressing the International Olympics Committee directly, he said: “If the Olympic Games 2022 should be awarded to China again you will be co-responsible for such atrocities. If you cannot support us, don’t treat us like toys for the sake of flattering the Chinese Communist Party. We the Tibetan people are also citizens of this world and our dignity and rights must be respected.”
In July 2015, Golog Jigme sent a personal letter to members of the International Olympics Committee asking them to reject China’s bid. In June 2021, he joined with Uyghur activist Qelbinur Sidiq to hand a letter of concern to International Olympics Committee officials, as a part of a global day of action. Then, in December 2021, Golog Jigme joined with Tibetan activists and Free Tibet staff to hold a mock funeral for the Olympic Values of ‘excellence, friendship, and respect’, outside the International Olympics Committee headquarters in Lausanne.