Is The Sun Setting On Free Tibet?

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“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” Hamlet (1.4.90) Marcellus to Horatio

Following our recent post on the troubling shortcomings of the March 10 protest in London and the questions raised about why, in terms of public protest,  the Tibetan scene in England appears to have stagnated, we have received an interesting communication from a gentleman who claims to have been a founding member of a previous version of one of the groups which seem so spectacularly unable to motivate, encourage or support its membership to become actively engaged with the Tibetan Uprising day demonstration. More on that a little later.

Meanwhile just what is it with the organization Free Tibet that seems to attract such criticism, notwithstanding its friends in the exiled Tibetan Administration, which recently were the only party to ride to their rescue when the organization was charged by a Tibetan blogger, calling himself Gelek, with being neocolonialists. According to the author they effectively hijacked the Tibetan cause and set themselves up as the go to body for the media for any questions on Tibet. Of course that searing indictment and the toxic debate that followed raised too many inconvenient questions, cynics therefore would not be too shocked to learn that, roughly the same time as a supportive statement SEE HERE   from Ms. Dicky Chhoyang, an exiled Tibetan official, was posted online the offending post mysteriously was withdrawn by the Tibetan author.

Subsequent efforts to seek reasons as to why he removed the article were greeted with silence. No doubt much to the relief of the handful of non-Tibetans who run the offices of Free Tibet and the executive administrators behind the scenes, who would not have welcomed such negative inquiry or exposure. Then readers may recall there was another damning exposé, this time from a former staff member of that group whose insights and experiences of attitudes and working practices certainly increased the temperature and invited further concerns.

Reading that blistering account it was difficult for the most trusting and fair of minds not to perceive the organization as arrogantly unaccountable, staffed by careerists, with little knowledge of Tibet and troubling questions related to the allocation of funding.

“As a small but leading UK Tibet agency, it is difficult to justify how half of an annual budget of £500 000 was spent on staff salaries in 2011-12. For a six-staff organisation  that’s excessive, particularly when their media and human rights reporting activity is done as well, if not better, by other Tibetan-led and staffed organisations, such as the TCHRD, on a far smaller budget.” (Source: ‘A Free Tibet Without Tibetans No Thanks’ Ms. Adele Wilde-Blavatsky)

A period of relative calm then ensued until our friends on Twitter alerted us on Tuesday March 12 to posts from the hacktivist group Anonymous about a page on the website of Free Tibet which seemed to be exploiting the harrowing issue of Tibetans suffering torture for the purposes of attracting donations and increasing membership.Details HERE

It was against this background that we read  a communication sent on March 13 to our Blog from a Mr Sean Jones, a founder of a group which was eventually to be renamed and seemingly re-branded as Free Tibet. His comments raise further questions and demand exposure, to that end we shall be posting those in full in a following post. See HERE

2 thoughts on “Is The Sun Setting On Free Tibet?

  1. Sean Jones says:

    I am very interested to read this (‘Is the Sun Setting on Free Tibet’ – ha ha, very good joke!) and all the other articles referred to therein, especially ”Free Tibet with no Tibetans? No Thanks” by Ms Wilde-Blavatsky, which amongst several other excellent points notably indicates a distinct lack of transparency on the financial front by Free Tibet formerly Tibet Support Group-UK. As former Hon.Treasurer of the organisation throughout the 1990s, I repeatedly endeavoured to establish full financial transparency and disclosure as a matter of organisational policy, but this was also rejected by the board at the urging of the Chair. The result, as Ms Wilde-Blavatsky has found, is that nobody can see the slightest detail of how they have used (or more pertinently, not used!) the funds they raise from small donors. This is quite disgraceful for any voluntary organisation relying on donations to pay its way, but as a matter of policy for a supposedly dedicated Tibet support group it seems particularly nauseating.

    Let us see the response of the group, I sincerely hope it will be able to clarify all such questions now being raised to everyone’s satisfaction and I shall be more than pleased to retract and apologise for any inaccuracies in my own comments that they might be able to point to and disprove.

    I suspect, however, that I might be portrayed by those who took control of Tibet Support Group as it was (later Free Tibet) as ‘a disaffected element’ and my comments will be dismissed as sour grapes, however, these are the facts, distasteful as they might seem, and I am truly sorry to feel obliged to make such background insider disclosures in addition to the other more poignant criticisms of their using torture of Tibetans to raise funds, the complete absence of Tibetans amongst any of their staff and volunteers and worst of all their apparent abandonment of the sacred principle of “Rangzen” in favour of “offering an olive branch to the Chinese” as your writer states (13th March?).

    The TSG-UK was originally established by my friends (both Tibetan and British) and me in 1987/88 with one very clear purpose in mind: to lobby the government and support Tibetans by giving them a platform to make their voice heard politically, at a time when the Dalai Lama had just been refused a UK visa when, in 1987, I personally invited him to visit the UK and he very graciously accepted. This was seen as a Chinese-inspired decision by the FCO in an attempt to “gag” the Tibetan leader in exile and to silence or marginalise his voice and the voices of his people in general. Following the immediate outpouring of public outrage expressed by Tibetans and their friends in the UK media at the time (partly focussed through our then nascent TSG-UK) the FCO eventually did grant him a visa but only on condition that he made no political statements whilst in our country. A sad state of affairs for a people which still purported to champion freedom of speech and democracy!

    It is too bad that according to your accounts in this blog, 25 years later this same organisation remains so apparently divorced from and independent of the real Free Tibet movement which is so dynamically and passionately driven by committed, skilful and determined Tibetans themselves.

    It had always been an organisational policy to be borne in mind by TSG-UK from the very start to appoint Tibetans to jobs in the office and on the board and attempts were made, Tibetans came and went, but it seems that the current Chair (who appears to have been in place for some 20 years now) and possibly other longstanding members of the board (I shall mention no names but they know who they are) have perhaps come to see the organisation as a platform for themselves to create and maintain the group as a self-perpetuating bureaucracy of sorts, a platform for their own egos to enjoy an interesting hobby that gives them kudos and standing in their parochial little worlds.

    I am eager to hear their voice now, a dozen years after I was voted off the board, and I sincerely hope to hear that they can prove me wrong!

    If indeed the group has failed to fill a single one of its seats (board, staff, volunteers) with Tibetans after so many years, despite a current annual budget which appears to be in the region of half a million pounds, then one must assume this sad fact is the result of either a deliberate policy on the part of the board, and/or a failure of leadership.

    Lastly to enjoy credibility any advocacy or lobbying group must be able to demonstrate clear correspondence and uniformity of its policies and aspirations with the policies and aspirations of its constituency, the very people it has been formed to support, in this case the Tibetan people in Tibet. If the board, staff and volunteers were all Tibetans or at least Tibetan-led, or Tibetan in the majority, this would be of great help. Otherwise, if not a single Tibetan is in sight, as seems to be the case even now after 25 years, on what basis can this group demonstrate its credibility in these terms? If they cannot demonstrate that what they are lobbying for is the same thing as those Tibetans want who are tragically immolating themselves, what exactly is the point of raising £500,000 a year in charitable donations from well-meaning Tibet supporters with great expertise, inly to use it to pay their own rent and salaries – and keeping the balance (an unknown amount which really ought to be disclosed) on deposit earning interest at the bank in order to guarantee their jobs and perpetuate their cosy committee meetings?

    No doubt, I am sure the board considers itself very successful indeed in whatever it has been doing for the last two decades (tba?) but is it really serving the Tibetan cause in a manner that can be openly, warmly and gratefully approved by the Tibetans themselves: the need for a Free Tibet, Rangzen in other words (unless I’m very much mistaken)?

    This is the real question. I would most sincerely hope the answer is a resounding “yes!” Answers on a postcard? Over to you, ‘Free Tibet’.

    Sean Jones

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