Agam's Gecko
Thursday, August 28, 2008

here is a lady who lives in detention, within a country that's been likened to a 50 million inmate prison. The military rulers of the country control all the gun barrels (but nothing ever grows out of them). The people of this country simply call her The Lady, while the gunmen seem to fear her moral force.
"It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."

-Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -- "Freedom from Fear"
Dhondup Wangchen may not have ever heard Daw Suu's words, but he and his friend Golog Jigme, a Buddhist monk, put them into serious practise. Between October 2007 and March 2008, the two travelled across the Tibetan plateau with a cheap video camera to record the voices of ordinary Tibetans. Such voices are rarely if ever heard on the outside.

But that was not quite enough for most of the people who spoke to Dhondup's camera. Cautioned that they were allowed to protect themselves from the retribution of the occupation regime by concealing their identities, most of them insisted on leaving fear behind and showing their faces to the camera. They needed to show that they were not afraid to stand by their words, even at the possible cost of their lives.

Dhondup Wangchen and Golog Jigme sent their tapes out of the country on March 10, 2008, and were arrested soon after by Chinese security forces. It was the same day that other Tibetans began peaceful processions to demonstrate their lack of fear, and to mark their national uprising exactly 49 years earlier. The film was completed in exile -- its Tibetan title is "Jigdrel", rendered to English as "Leaving Fear Behind." The filmmakers remain in Chinese prisons. The complete film is here (just under 25 minutes).

(A suggestion: Start the video and pause it, allowing it to continue loading while you read on. Lower bandwidth users might try the version on Google Video, but the picture quality is not as good.)

Dhondup Wangchen
Dhondup Wangchen
Photo: Leaving Fear Behind
Dhondup Wangchen comes from a farming family in Bayan County, Tsoshar Prefecture, Amdo (Ch: Hualong, Haidong, Qinghai). Born in 1974, he received no formal education, and has no film making experience.

In 1993 he made the long journey to India with his cousin, Gyaljong Tsetrin, but both returned to their country. Gyaljong Tsetrin was arrested many times for his work to preserve Tibetan identity and culture, and he finally fled Tibet in 2002. He received political asylum in Switzerland, and founded the non-profit organisation Filming for Tibet in 2008.

Golog Jigme
Golog Jigme
Photo: Leaving Fear Behind
Dhondup and his friend Golog Jigme travelled thousands of miles across the plateau over nearly six months, asking ordinary Tibetans what they felt about the Dalai Lama, China, and the upcoming Olympic Games. The responses, often eloquent, won't be surprising to most people. They will be a shocker to many Chinese, whether propaganda department bureaucrats or online fenqing ("angry youth"), where the favoured come-back to the long list of reprehensible Chinese policies and actions is, "Go to Tibet and see for yourself how happy the Tibetans are with our rule."

Watch the candor from nomads delivering their responses in the midst of the spacious grassland, where there are no listening devices or surveillance cameras. Pay attention to the emotions when a group of elders are given the opportunity to view a recording of the ceremony at which the US Congress and President Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to His Holiness. An old man grieves over their spiritual teacher's long absence and his fear that he will not live to see his return, and weeps quietly in despair.

The film had its debut in Beijing on August 6, the only city where a short documentary premiere needs to be a "cloak and dagger" affair. Journalists were sent coded text messages telling them to go to a certain room in a particular hotel, find a key taped in a secret place and let themselves in. The first screening came off without incident at a "dingy hotel" near Tiananmen Square. A second showing, at a purple-hued boutique hotel near Worker's Stadium called Hotel G, was nipped in the bud while a handful of reporters were watching. The next day, Hotel G became Hotel Gone, closed down by the authorities. The Party always ensures that the innocent pay as well as the "guilty."

Dhondup Wangchen was last seen in detention in Sining city, Qinghai, while Golog Jigme was last seen at a detention centre in Lingxia, Gansu. On August 24, Dhondup's wife Lhamo-Tso appealed to International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge to help win the men's freedom. Thousands of people have joined this campaign (so can you). There has been no response.
Dear Mr. Rogge:

My name is Lhamotso and I am the wife of Dhondup Wangchen. It is with desperation and sorrow over the fate of my husband and Golog Jigme, who has been detained by Chinese authorities since March 2008. Their crime was to film Tibetans’ peaceful expression of their views on the XXIX Olympic Games.

My husband, Dhondup Wangchen, from Hualong, Haidong (Qinghai) was detained by authorities on or about March 26, 2008. He was held in Ershilipu Detention Center in Xining (Qinghai), and was last seen in Guangsheng Binguan on or about July 12, 2008.

Dhondup Wangchen spent most of his time helping the needy and serving the community. He’s a very good husband and also a good father to our four children. I appeal to the Chinese Government to release Dhondup. I urge you and the IOC to use your influence on China so that the host of the Olympic Games remains true to its promises of freedom of expression to the people.

Tomorrow, the Games in Beijing will be over, the people from all over the world will return home taking away the spot light from China. I beg you on behalf of my children and Dhondup’s family to use the last day and opportunity to speak out on behalf of my husband.

Now, you can probably watch the video without interruption. Here are some of the voices of Tibet who have abandoned the wait for a government to give them any freedom, and who have given themselves the only freedom within their power: the freedom from fear.

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