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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Leaking State Secrets: Beijing Finds Nothing Noble in Speaking Out on Human Rights

August 2, 2008

Rebecca Novick
The Huffington Post
July 31, 2008

Tenzin Norgay has been following reports of human rights violations
coming out of Tibet for over six years now. The hardest part, he
says, is the unrealistic hopes of those who bring them to him.
"Everybody expects things to change overnight." Thirty-year-old
Norgay is one of twelve staff at the Tibetan Center for Human Rights
& Democracy (TCHRD) in Dharamsala, India -- a modest but motivated
NGO dedicated to monitoring the human rights of a place that's
arguably more controlled than anywhere on earth.

Mostly, the information the Center receives comes through a third
party, often Tibetans in exile. Lately, however, the reports that
were flooding the office in the Spring have been reduced to a trickle
as a result of China's current security clampdown in Tibet.

If getting human rights information out of Tibet is a challenge in
itself, the staff at TCHRD face an even greater challenge --
verifying the reports they receive. "They can prove to be just rumor,
and we have to be very, very careful in digging out what the real
situation is," says Norgay. I ask what they do if they can't
authenticate some information that seems vitally important. "If our
sources cannot corroborate the story, then we drop it. It's very difficult."

The logistical issues are closely tied to ethical ones. The Center's
staff are in possession of a number of photos that they're unable to
release because there's not enough supporting information. But even
if they are able to authenticate the photo, they might still choose
not to release it. "All of us know that pictures like these can land
people in trouble." For a story or photograph to be taken seriously,
it needs to be backed up with details such as name, age, and place.
But here's the rub. Such details put people in danger.

Occasionally, the Center even finds its work at odds with that of
reporters who need names and facts to authenticate their own stories.
"We do not believe in the breaking news culture," says Norgay. "It
can lead to the overstepping of human rights ethics to some degree."

As he explains, "China does not regard the reporting of human rights
violations to the outside world as reporting human rights violations.
It is viewed as leaking state secrets. The authorities do not look
upon these people as human rights activists or human rights
defenders. They can even be labeled as terrorists. It's a very heavy,
very tense thing for us. We don't want to land anyone in prison." The
staff of TCHRD is acutely aware of what this means. Two of them, Dawa
Tsering and Jampa Monlam, are former political prisoners themselves,
who were incarcerated for four and five years respectively in Lhasa's
Drapchi prison -- a place that's synonymous with torture.

No matter how careful they are, it's inevitable that occasionally one
or other of their sources in Tibet will be discovered by China's
security forces that exercise wide-ranging control and surveillance
of personal communications such as phones and email. Norgay's voice
lowers as he responds to my question about how the office copes with
this. "Whenever someone is arrested and thrown into jail for their
bravery in telling the truth to the outside world, we feel a grave loss."

But sometimes people insist that the Center publish what they send
out. "They say, very courageously, 'Do not worry about us. We are
ready to sacrifice ourselves.' If they say this with so much heart
and strong will, then we double-check with them again, 'Do you really
want us to publish this?' If they say 'yes' then we have no option.
They completely understand the risk they're taking."

I guessed that Norgay must have his cell phone on all the time.
"Twenty-four hours. Anyone can wake me up, anytime they like."

It's the only time during our whole conversation that he smiles.

Rebecca Novick is a writer and the Executive Producer of The Tibet
Connection radio program. She is currently based in Dharamsala, India.
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