As co-president of the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe, Jigme Adotsang is committed to the rights of Tibetans in Switzerland. In a workshop organized by the Society for Threatened Peoples, he learned how to protect himself from Chinese surveillance on the Internet.
Since Switzerland signed the Free Trade Agreement with China, the rights of the Tibetans living here have been pushed into the background. In a joint campaign, Swiss/Tibet organizations and the Society for Threatened Peoples highlight the fact that, despite these trade interests, fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of movement and the right to privacy need to be adhered to. In relation to this, an important issue is protection against surveillance, including on the internet.
“Regularly, before our general meeting or before actions, we receive strange emails”, says Jigme Adotsang, “where we are asked to click on a link and enter our data”, stated the co-president of the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe. In addition to these phishing emails, Tibetan activists have received emails from supposed acquaintances, who turned out to be fake. It looks as though these incidents are now steadily increasing: “While we cannot prove that it’s Chinese surveillance, there is clearly something wrong here”, the 26-year-old computer specialist emphasizes.
It is also evident that something is wrong during public events and demonstrations of the Tibetan community: “Again and again, on the fringes of such events, we notice unknown people of Asian origin carrying large cameras”, recounts Jigme Adotsang. “As they are not bothered to hide themselves, it looks more like intimidation tactics.” This has consequences: “Especially among young Tibetans, fear has increased”. Adotsang keeps hearing that people, out of concern for their loved ones in Tibet, do not wish to get involved even in Switzerland. “This is really bad.”
Second and third generation Tibetans
Jigme Adotsang understands the fear but sees himself in a privileged situation. “It’s easier for me as the majority of my family lives in Switzerland.” Adotsang’s grandmother came to Switzerland in the 1970s, his father was born here. His mother grew up in Pestalozzi children’s village. Jigme Adotsang himself began to get involved with Tibetan Youth at 18. In his opinion, it is important that second- or even third-generation Tibetans stand up for the rights of the Tibetan community: “We had the chance to grow up here in Switzerland and enjoy a good education. We should exploit this advantage and let the public know that we are being watched by China; a lot of people have no idea.” Thus, the campaign alongside the Society for Threatened Peoples has brought the issue into the public domain, creating understanding. From the authorities, Jigme expects that the surveillance will not only be noted: “The Swiss authorities must take our security concerns seriously and help us by sending clear signals to China.”
Tibetans get ready against surveillance
As part of the campaign “Protect the Rights of Tibetans – also in Switzerland!,” the Society for Threatened Peoples organized a workshop in October. An IT specialist, member of the Cryptoparty movement, explained in the first part how data is systematically collected on the internet, which has always been allowed by the revised Federal Act on the Surveillance of Postal and Telecommunications Traffic and the competencies of the Secret Service according to the Intelligence Act. In the second part, the participants learned more specifically how to encrypt emails and devices, how to surf without leaving a trace, and the alternatives to Facebook and Google.
“The workshop has shown us how one can be better protected on the internet through some simple measures”, says Jigme Adotsang. “This is extremely important for our members and volunteer campaigners, to make them feel safer.” His task is now to train the members of his organization and pass on the knowledge.