New report details Tibetan protests against environmental degradation and exploitation

Monday, 2 February 2015

Environmental concerns across Tibet trigger protest and repression

A report published today by research group Tibet Watch provides for the first time a comprehensive picture of current Tibetan resistance to China’s exploitation of Tibet’s natural environment. Commissioned by Free Tibet, Environmental protests on the Tibetan plateau (1) finds creative responses by Tibetans to the challenges of opposing China’s policies in Tibet but a consistent failure by authorities to address their grievances and the frequent use of force to suppress protest.

The report examines 12 confirmed protests across Tibet’s three regions, U-Tsang, Amdo, and Kham (2) since 2010. Mining is the most common trigger for demonstrations, with damming and river pollution also provoking opposition. Tibet’s rich natural resources include fresh drinking water and large-scale mineral deposits, such as gold, copper, silver, chromium and lithium. The rivers running off the Tibetan plateau are ideal for the generation of hydropower.

Protests include individual acts, creative forms such as the dumping of dead fish at the offices of local authorities (Dartsedo County, October 2013, photographs available [3]) and mass protests involving hundreds or thousands of people.

In some circumstances protesters have only sought the proper implementation and enforcement of China’s own environmental laws and explicitly tried to remove any political element from their demonstrations by flying Chinese flags and referring to Chinese president Xi jinping’s comments on environmental protection (photographs available).

Although a handful of protests have been met with assurances of action, these have rarely led to positive outcomes. Many protests have been met with significant violence. In Dzatoe County in August 2013, a protest was dispersed with beatings, teargas and the firing of shots (photos and video available). In Dechen County in July, 2014, protesters were severely beaten by police and told by the head of the mining operation that they had “every right” to kill them if they protested again (photographs available).

Environmental concerns have frequently led to further conflict between Tibetans and authorities. After an anti-mining protest in Driru County in May 2013, a “political re-education” programme was imposed on the county within months. Protests by Tibetans against the campaign led to an ongoing cycle of protest and repression in which protesters were fired upon, at least one protester was tortured to death and others received severe sentences of up to 13 years (4).

A number of Tibetans have committed suicide in response to environmental exploitation and at least two self-immolations have taken place near mining sites (5).

A Tibetan interviewee quoted in the report explains:

"Tibetans do not learn the value of the earth through science but through our religion and the way our ancestors protected our land over thousands of years. . . The mining of sacred mountains and holy lakes [is] more than pollution and destruction of the environment. It is a violation of our tradition, religious beliefs and the destruction of our forefathers’ legacy.”

The report concludes:

“Many [Tibetans] see themselves as stewards of a land that has an intrinsic value as a living environment and is more than just a repository for commodities that gain value only once they are extracted and sold.

“ . . . China's vision of development and hunger for economic growth are both powerful driving forces and the environmental exploitation of Tibet shows no sign of slowing down. But the deep bond between the Tibetans and their land is equally strong and environmental protests are likely to continue, and likely to continue evolving, as long as China continues to ignore the people and the environment of the Tibetan plateau.”


For further information, comment and photographs and video, contact Free Tibet campaigns and media manager Alistair Currie:
T: +44 (0)207 324 4605

Notes to editors
(1) Tibet Watch (2015) Environmental protests on the Tibetan plateau
(2) These areas are subsumed under Chinese rule into the Tibet Autonomous region, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu Provinces: Tibetan protests have taken place in all of these administrative regions.
(3) Photographs available in report – copies available from Free Tibet on request.
(4) For further detail on events in Driru, see Tibet Watch report Driru County: the new hub of Tibetan resistance (2014)
(5) Phakpa Gyaltsen stabbed himself to death in Dzogang County, April 2014. Tsering Dhondup and Kunchok Tsering staged separate, fatal, self-immolation protests near a mining site in Sangchu county in November 2012.

Free Tibet campaigns for an end to China's occupation of Tibet and for international recognition of Tibetans' right to freedom. We mobilise active support for the Tibetan cause, champion human rights and challenge those whose actions help sustain the occupation.

Tibet Watch works to promote the human rights of the Tibetan people through monitoring, research and advocacy. It is a UK registered charity with an office in London and a field office in Dharamsala, India.