Tibetan-Swiss Singer’s Controversial Speech Sparks Outrage in Tibetan Diaspora

By Tsering Choephel

Tibetan-Swiss singer, Dechen Shak-Dagsay. Image: raven-spirit.cn.

DHARAMSALA, 23 March: A Tibetan-Swiss singer, Dechen Shak-Dagsay’s speech delivered at a seminar sponsored by the China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS) held at the University of Geneva on 18 March has drawn sharp criticism and condemnation from the exiled Tibetan diaspora.

In her speech, Dechen used the term ‘Xizang’ to refer to Tibet, aligning with the Chinese Communist Party’s policy of replacing ‘Tibet’ with ‘Xizang’. She notably praised the CCP’s boarding school projects in Tibet, expressing hopes for their sustainability and success, as reported by China’s state media, chinadaily.com.cn, on 20 March.

After facing immediate condemnation and criticism from Tibetans in exile, including members of the Tibetan Parliament in the ongoing 7th Session of the 17th Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, she posted an explanatory video for fellow Tibetans.

In the video, she reaffirmed her statements, highlighting the benefits of the “3000 boarding schools” established in Tibet by the CCP for Tibetan children. She claimed to have witnessed the effective teaching of Tibetan languages and the proficiency of Tibetan students in speaking Tibetan. Additionally, she justified her attendance at the seminar.  While Dechen had been to Tibet before, her visit in August 2023 marked her first time exploring the parts of Tibet that the CCP has designated as the Tibet Autonomous Region. 

Dechen also described herself as a bridge builder between Tibetans inside Tibet and those living in exile in the video. The DEWA CHE Foundation, an initiative she started over a decade ago, supports various social projects such as vocational training programs in tailoring, automobile mechanics, and cooking for Tibetan youths inside Tibet.

As stated in a detailed report published by the Tibet Action Institute in collaboration with Tibetan educationist Dr Gyal Lo, approximately one million children aged 4 to 18, including at least 100,000 who are around 4 or 5 years old, are at risk of losing their Tibetan identity due to extensive indoctrination under the CCP system in boarding schools located throughout all three provinces of historical Tibet. This mandatory boarding school system is part of Beijing’s larger ‘sinicisation’ policies in occupied Tibet that the CCP is implementing in all aspects of the Tibetan identity, from culture to language to religious traditions and practices.

Dechen’s acknowledgedly stating that the CSHRS, the sponsor of the event as a mere non-governmental organisation holds no water, given the well-known fact of the CCP’s pervasive control across all sectors in China. Even a cursory look at the CSHRS website reveals explicitly that this so-called non-governmental organisation is nothing but an agency operating at the CCP’s command.

The website states under its “purpose and mission” that “Inspired by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s important discourse on respecting and safeguarding human rights, CSHRS is committed to advancing contemporary Chinese perspectives on human rights.”

Notably, the current president of the organisation is Pema Thinley (Chinese:Padma Choling), whom the CCP appointed as the Chairman of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in January 2010. In an interview with Newsweek, given as the head of TAR, he accused the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile of instigating the 2008 uprising in Tibet, stating,  “The Dalai and his clique started the riots in order to realise their own political purposes.” 

Amid ongoing discussions and criticism stemming from her recent speech, she posted a forty-second video on Facebook today, expressing, “My visit to the event in Geneva on 18 March has greatly concerned and unsettled the community. Therefore, to calm the situation, I would like to apologise from the bottom of my heart. Likewise, I have spoken to the head of the Tibetan Bureau and the Tibetan society.”

According to Wikipedia, Dechen Shak-Dagsay was born in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1959. At the age of 4, her family relocated to Switzerland, where she presently resides.

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