LONDON] Today, Tuesday 8 August, 14 Tibet groups have made public a letter (1) written to US biotech giant Thermo Fisher Scientific. The letter challenges the company over its continued refusal to engage with concerns(2) that it is enabling the ethnically targeted DNA collection from over a million Tibetans.
In the letter, dated 31 July 2023, the groups once ask the company’s CEO, Marc Casper, to acknowledge the fact that Thermo Fisher equipment is being purchased by police who are enforcing an occupation and employ “mass surveillance, arbitrary detention and torture.” The letter concludes that the “only reasonable course of action for Thermo Fisher would be to ensure that sales of its DNA equipment are blocked to police in occupied Tibet.”
The letter was prompted by a statement issued by Thermo Fisher’s shareholder relations team on 25 May 2023 (3). The statement was emailed to several shareholders who had contacted the company following its annual general meeting (AGM), raising their concerns about the DNA collection in Tibet. The emailed statement insisted that Thermo Fisher’s products could not be used for surveillance purposes and repeated longstanding claims by Thermo Fisher that its products were being used for “criminal or case work purposes”.
Pema Doma from Students for a Free Tibet said:
“Despite us confronting them with evidence about the reality of life in occupied Tibet, Thermo Fisher has repeatedly fallen back on the line that their equipment assists police with their day to day criminal casework. The fact is, occupied Tibet is a repressive policing environment where tiny acts of dissent or expressing ones Tibetan culture results in arrest and torture.
“And now, Tibetans are being targeted for DNA testing on the basis of their ethnicity outside of any criminal or missing person investigation. Targeting is pre-emptive and takes place in an environment in which police are enforcing an occupation on the Tibetan population, with widespread use of mass surveillance, arbitrary detention and torture.”
Tibet groups launched an international campaign last autumn to demand that Thermo Fisher blocks sales of its DNA testing kits to police in occupied Tibet, responding to findings by the Citizen Lab that as many as 1.2 million Tibetans had been subject to DNA testing by police (4), and by Human Rights Watch that among the institutions affected by this mass DNA collection were kindergartens and that children as young as five years old were sampled (5).
Over 70,000 people have signed petitions to Thermo Fisher’s CEO, Marc Casper, urging him to block sales of DNA testing kits and equipment to police in occupied Tibet (6). Tibet groups also held a vibrant day of action in Boston on 25 May, the day of the company’s AGM, in which they held a rally at the company’s headquarters (7).
Tenzin Rabga from Free Tibet said:
“What started as a private exchange of letters between Tibet groups and Thermo Fisher has now exploded into a worldwide campaign, with tens of thousands of people demanding that Thermo Fisher cut the sales of its DNA equipment to police in occupied Tibet. It has drawn in journalists, DNA experts, buyers of Thermo Fisher products and shareholders and has seen us take over Boston on the day of Thermo Fisher’s AGM. These protests can and must continue because to Tibetans, preventing occupying police from gaining more powers to put them under surveillance and repress them is not a financial matter; it is a matter of life and death.”
The 31 July letter by Tibet groups is the fifth time that they have written to Thermo Fisher (8). Although representatives from Thermo Fisher have replied to the previous four letters, there has been no response from Marc Casper, requests for a meeting with the company have been ignored and key points about the repressive human rights environment have been avoided. Despite its denials, the company has tacitly acknowledged that its equipment can be used in human rights abuses. In February 2019, it publicly committed to blocking the sales of DNA equipment to police in the Uyghur region, citing “fact-specific assessments” and the company’s ethics (9).
Lobsang Yangtso from Tibet Network said:
“Thermo Fisher has clearly not enjoyed seeing Tibetans, human rights groups and its own shareholders accuse it of supporting repression and occupation. There is a simple way to solve this: it needs to stop supporting repression and occupation. Marc Casper and Thermo Fisher need to listen to what Tibetans are telling them. It needs to face up to the violence and surveillance the police impose on Tibetans on a daily basis and its role in enabling it. And it needs to act, by blocking all sales of its DNA equipment to police in occupied Tibet. There is still time to do the right thing.”
For further information or comment, contact:
Tenzin Yangzom, Campaign Manager, Students for a Free Tibet |
Phone: +1 617-682-6977
John Jones, Head of Campaigns, Policy and Research, Free Tibet
Phone: +44 759-118-8383
Rashi Jauhri, Campaigns Coordinator, International Tibet Network
Phone: +44 758-709-4876
Notes for journalists
- Link to letter [4th] July 2023 Follow Up_ Thermo Fisher post AGM response.pdf
- Questions to Thermo Fisher Scientific that remain unanswered:
- Can you please confirm and provide details about whether Thermo Fisher Scientific supplies sequences to any police or public security authorities who have jurisdiction over Tibet?
- Can you provide details regarding what steps Thermo Fisher Scientific has taken to monitor the use of its equipment to ensure that it is not used inappropriately in Tibet?
- Can you provide details of any human rights policies and procedures Thermo Fisher Scientific may have and how they apply to operations, sales, or other business in Tibet?
- Thermo FIsher response to shareholders https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_bbpzwouTsZIIVssuK2pt56ptY3NZ_3J/view
- Emile Dirks, ‘Mass DNA Collection in the Tibet Autonomous Region from 2016–2022’, The Citizen Lab, 13 September 2022, https://citizenlab.ca/2022/09/mass-dna-collection-in-the-tibet-autonomous-region/
- China: New Evidence of Mass DNA Collection in Tibet, Human Rights Watch, 5 September 2022, www.hrw.org/news/2022/09/05/china-new-evidence-mass-dna-collection-tibet ]
- Yangchen Dolma ‘Tibetan activists protest against Thermo Fisher at its annual meeting of shareholders’, Tibet Post, 26 May 2023 https://www.thetibetpost.com/en/news/43-international/7584-tibetan-activists-protest-against-thermo-fisher-at-its-annual-meeting-of-shareholders
- Previous joint letters can be accessed here: 14 November, 29 November and 6 January
- Sophie Richardson, ‘Thermo Fisher’s Necessary, But Insufficient, Step in China’, Human Rights Watch, 22 February 2019 https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/22/thermo-fishers-necessary-insufficient-step-china