Dhondup Wangchen, Tibetan filmmaker and leading human rights activist who spent six years in Chinese prison for “subversion of state power” after filming life in Tibet under Chinese rule, addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy after receiving the Summit’s Courage Award – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

On importance of freedom:

“I realized the true meaning of freedom and how freedom is more important than one’s life.”

On abuse of Tibetans:

“Without the support I received from the international community, I would be long dead.”

“The moment the Tibetan person is labelled — that is just a dead body.”

“When I was arrested I thought I would be kidnapped and martyred and no one would know what happened to me.”

Message for the future:

“A day will come when Tibetans have control of their own destinies. Let us walk together.”

Full Remarks

Dear representatives of government, non-governmental organizations, independent supporters, each and every one of you who are present here today: Tashi Delek.

It is a great honor to accept this award on behalf of my fellow comrades. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for bestowing me this year’s award. It brings me immense pleasure and pride.

I had no idea that a day like this would come. This day feels like a dream to me. I stand here today because of the support that I received from the international community, who firmly stands for human rights and democracy.

Accepting the award in front of you all, breathing the air of freedom, sharing the story of the hardest part of my life; words are not enough to share the happiness I feel here today. In a real sense this award belongs to each one of you, because even in the most difficult times, without hesitating about the challenges ahead, you have all stood by us courageously and firmly, facing one of the most repressive, oppressive, and authoritarian regimes: China – which is growing powerful and dominating. This award represents your courage and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your support. For your unwavering courage.

When the Chinese police initially detained me, put me in the detention center, I was handcuffed for 7 days and 8 nights. I was forced to sleep on a wooden chair. They put me an electric button on my neck and I was beaten and tortured severely. I was forced to confess without being informed of what crime I committed. It was so painful that no words are enough to share the extent of the torture inflicted on me. I thought I was either going to die due to torture or would be martyred.

In those darkest days I strongly felt it was better to die than to live.

Even in those darkest moments my only hope was that through my documentary the international community would know the reality of Tibet and how Tibetans actually feel about the Chinese repressive rule in Tibet. I felt I had finally achieved what I had wanted to do, and I was ready to die peacefully, because I know that in the free world you all will continue to care for us Tibetans and that in the face of adversity your courage would take this Tibetan struggle forward.

The support of the international community kept me alive, and kept my faith alive. Without the support of the international community I received I would have been long dead. I thought I already knew how important basic freedoms and rights are for human beings, but I realized the true meaning of freedom and got a sense of how freedom is more important than one’s life after I was released from the prison.

Life for a Tibetan political prisoner after coming out of prison is no different from being in prison. I was under constant surveillance. I could not meet my friends and relatives because it would put them in trouble. It is difficult to find jobs for political prisoners. Political prisoners are deprived of financial and medical subsidies. Former political prisoners are not permitted to travel within nearby Tibetan areas without permission from Chinese authorities. In short, the moment a Tibetan is labelled with political activism and imprisoned the person is a breathing dead body. That is when I really understood the importance of freedom and democracy, that is when I understood why 153 Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet.

Freedom is truly more precious than one’s life. When a person is deprived of his freedom and rights, what makes him human; there is nothing left for him in this life.

When I was arrested I thought I would be kidnapped and martyred and no one would know what happened to me. I never thought that I would be able to escape. Before I was detained and disappeared, I even recorded my last words in the documentary because I wanted the world to know and inform people about the real situation of Tibetan political prisoners.

I am so happy and feel glad that I am free now. I can’t believe this. It feels like a dream.

All because of the international community’s support and the support of international organizations who stand for human rights and democracy I am alive today standing in front of you.

I have seen both hell and after, I am free now and I’ll continue to work for Tibetans inside Tibet by raising awareness about the real conditions in Tibet. As I grow old I will continue supporting the cause of Tibet.

The courage you have shown yesterday changed my today and the courage we show today will change the future of Tibetans.
Therefore please – let us not give up. Soon a day will come when Tibetans inside Tibet will become the masters of their own destiny and breathe the air of freedom. Please – let us work together for that day to come. It is not far.

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