RFA’s Tibetan Service

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 August 2011 07:20 Written by RFA15 Thursday, 18 August 2011 12:50

The Dalai Lama, alongside RFA President Libby Liu, addresses RFA staff on July 11, 2011.



Thank you for visiting RFA’s 15th Anniversary site. This month we’re featuring RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Please scroll down to explore the unique features of RFA Tibetan including fast facts, photos, history, special programming, exclusive coverage, listener comments, and awards won by RFA Tibetan journalists.

You can also view major news events and story highlights of the past 15 years.

Fast Facts

First Broadcast: December 1, 1996.

Coverage: 10 hours of programming per day; 7 days a week including 7 hours in Uke, plus 90 minutes daily in both the Amdo and Kham dialects.

Distribution: Radio (shortwave, satellite); Web: http://www.rfa.org/tibetan/

English Language Website: http://www.rfa.eng/english/news/tibet

Target Audience and Media Environment: We target the entire population of Tibet.  Our programs are designed to meet the need of every member of Tibetan society. Monks and nuns rely on RFA Tibetan for information about the Dalai Lama and stories on religious persecution in Tibetan areas.  Nomads are often better informed than their urban cousins on current affairs and issues relating to Tibet, China and the world because shortwave reception in rural areas is better than that in urban areas. Tibetan areas are among the most strictly controlled areas in China. RFA Tibetan listeners often risk their safety to listen to us or watch our webcast. RFA Tibetan has an exceptionally extensive network of contact both inside the TAR and in the Greater Tibet region outside the TAR.

A reporter from RFA's Tibetan service reports from Tiananmen Square during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Special Programming: In addition to broadcasting news, the Tibetan service has more than seven hours each week of call-in programming, providing listeners with a forum in which to freely discuss their views, opinions and thoughts, often with on-air experts.

RFA Tibetan also provides listeners with programming on Tibetan issues as viewed by Tibetan commentators in Beijing, Tibetan culture and music, women’s issues, banned book readings, democracy and the rule of law, Tibetan issues in Chinese press, and Tibetan exiles and international organizations, in addition to commentary and analyses on current events of the region and China, the environment, and economics. Socio-economic, cultural and educational matters affecting Tibetans in exile are also subjects of regular discussion.


RFA reporters Benpa Topgyal and Kalden Lodoe broadcast the first Tibetan service show on December 1, 1996.

First Broadcast: RFA’s Tibetan Service began broadcasting on December 1, 1996, from Washington, DC. The service gradually increased the broadcast time from the original half hour per day to its current 10 hours. As RFA Executive Editor Daniel Southerland recalls, starting a Tibetan broadcasting service offered special challenges: “We were able to find only one Tibetan who had worked previously as a journalist. She had worked as a newspaper reporter inside Tibet. But we had no professional broadcasters on the team of six Tibetans who put together the first show on December 1, 1996. What RFA did have were Tibetans who were educated and eager to learn. In addition to one journalist, they included two school principals, two scholars, and a former monk.”

The small team got intensive training and quickly developed their voicing skills. Their first broadcast included remarks by RFA‘s President, Dick Richter, and Tibetan Service Director Jigme Ngapo, who told listeners that RFA would adhere to the highest standards of journalism and strive for accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.

The broadcast included a report on a visit to India by China’s President Jiang Zemin and Tibetan protests over a Chinese crackdown occurring inside Tibet, a report on developments in Hong Kong under Chinese rule, a stringer report form India, and two features. The features dealt with “Tibet Today,” freedom of religion issues inside China, and concerns about the future of Taiwan and Hong Kong.

RFA president Dick Richter toasts the start of Tibetan service with Tibetan service Director Jigme Ngapo and RFA Tibetan staff on December 1, 1996.

Reactions from China and Tibetans: From the very beginning, the Chinese government reacted to the broadcasts with strong protests. China’s state media claimed that the CIA had a hand in the broadcast operations. Official spokespeople for the Chinese government also alleged that the “Dalai Clique” had a role.

Call-In Show Comments: Many who lacked access to the Internet called into call-in shows. Our first caller called in from a pay phone booth in Lhasa. He appeared to be very nervous. He hung up after a few minutes, saying “They’re coming.” He later called back and said that he hung up after seeing a police car but that everything was now alright.

A student on January 24, 2007, called in with a question: “I am a young seventh-grade student in Lower TCV school in Dharamsala. I am just 12 years old. I want to talk with Tibetan students of my age inside Tibet. Can you arrange through your call-in programs?”

A Tibetan caller from Kham in eastern Tibet on January 27, 2007, said, “In Tibet we say among ourselves that if we want to know the real news and stories about the world, we should listen to Radio Free Asia. … There are Tibetan programs inside Tibet but no one believes in them. Even Chinese themselves confess that those radio programs don’t tell true stories.”

Young Tibetans listen to RFA in India.

Listener Comments: After the first broadcast, the Tibetan Service began receiving a stream of letters from listeners. Here are a few examples.

“If I cannot listen to RFA, I am like a dead man. RFA is my only hope.” – Male listener, 53, Machen, 2008

“There are many people who discuss what was said on RFA today and yesterday. The reason why they like to listen to RFA is it fights for Tibetans’ rights by explaining the facts; it is everyone’s favorite broadcaster. They like to listen to it often and expect much from it.” – Male listener, 22, Sangchu, 2008

“RFA broadcasts clearly about the conditions inside Tibet and where His Holiness the Dalai Lama is going to visit and what he is doing. Because they broadcast such true information, I strongly trust it.” – Male listener, 32, Chikdril, 2008

A reporter from RFA's Tibetan service interviews the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje at RFA studios on July 15, 2011.

Comments from Religious Leaders: His Holiness the Dalai Lama said during his visit to RFA in April 1997, “I listen to Radio Free Asia programs every day along with my breakfast.” On July 11, 2011, the Dalai Lama, during another visit to our Washington, DC headquarters, said RFA helps provide true information to closed societies. In an address to RFA staff, he spoke about the value of democracy, freedom, and civil law, citing education as the key to ensuring those principles to endure. He concluded by saying RFA is “extremely helpful” and lauded its services for their contribution in working to “educate people who have no freedom of information.”

The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, a senior Tibetan religious figure, visited RFA on July 15, 2011, for an interview and meeting with Tibetan staff. In his interview he spoke about RFA’s important role in its 15th anniversary year as a broadcaster for the Tibetan community in Tibetan regions inside China and around the world. He also said he grew up listening to RFA. “It is something like a dream for me to be physically present at Radio Free Asia,” he told the Tibetan staff.

Recent Service Highlights and Impact

Karma Dorjee of RFA's Tibetan service interviews Tibetan exile Prime Minister-elect Dr. Lobsang Sangay, April 2011.

In April 2011, RFA Tibetan was the first news organization to interview Tibetan exile government Prime Minister-elect Lobsang Sangay on the day he was named the winner of the election held in March. The in-person interview capped off extensive coverage throughout 2010, including a series of town hall-style debates with candidates held in Tibetan refugee communities in Dharamsala and Bylakuppe, India. RFA managed to present candidates with questions from Tibetans living in Tibetan areas in China, despite their not being able to vote in the election.

In March 2008, RFA responded to the violent crackdown by Chinese authorities in Tibet by expanding broadcasts. RFA’s Tibetan service was one of the first to report about the peaceful protests by monks in Lhasa that were interrupted by Chinese police, provoking riots. RFA Tibetan led international media in reporting the deadly crackdown by Chinese forces on Tibetan protesters. As The Wall Street Journal said in its profile of RFA that ran in April 2008: “The earliest reports of unrest in Tibet last month didn’t come from a major newspaper, wire service or TV station. They came from … Washington-based Radio Free Asia.” The coverage earned one of the service’s broadcasters the 2009 Burke award from the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

March 2009: Actor Richard Gere talks to RFA Tibetan reporter Karma Zurkhang at the U.S. Capitol.

Over the last several years, RFA’s Tibetan service has reported on clash in China’s Sichuan province between local Tibetans and a state-owned mining company operating on a mountain considered sacred. The standoff led to riots that resulted in injuries and detainments among Tibetans. Following RFA’s exclusive initial coverage, mining plans were delayed.

In October 2006, the Tibetan service carried exclusive coverage about the detention of three people allegedly guiding Tibetan asylum-seekers from China to India. This followed coverage that month of Tibetan refugees’ trek through the Himalayas – a journey that left at least one asylum-seeker dead. RFA’s reports were picked up major wire services like Reuters, Associated Press, and Agence France Presse, as well as many Asian news sources.

RFA Tibetan on the Web

RFA Tibetan launched the Tibetan website in 1998, the first ever daily news website in the Tibetan language. It continues to be the only news website in the Tibetan language offering unbiased coverage of issues of interest to the Tibetans. Its lively message board with comments about politics, culture, social and religious affairs, is testimony to its popularity.

RFA Tibetan online offers access to daily broadcast news in audio and text format. Although access to the Internet by Tibetans in Tibet is limited, RFA receives anecdotal evidence that the Tibetan community reproduces and circulates news via other formats such as email and PDF files. Live coverage of the Dalai Lama’s teachings and visits to foreign countries are especially popular. The Service produces three webcasts per week featuring photos and footage from inside the target area and currently maintains five blogs. RFA Tibetan also has Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages.

RFA Tibetan was the first to offer Tibetan news via podcast. The service also sponsored the development of a Unicode Tibetan font in 2006.


Woeser in the far west of Tibet in 2002. Photo provided by Woeser.

2010: RFA Tibetan commentator, Tsering Woeser, received an award for courage in 2010 from the International Women’s Media Foundation. Woeser is a writer, poet, and blogger based in Beijing. She also contributes a regular weekly column to RFA. She’s been in and out of house arrest for years and remains under constant surveillance. Click here to read her profile by RFA’s Dan Southerland.

2009: Tseten Dolkar was awarded the David Burke Distinguished Journalism award by the Broadcasting Board of Governors for her reporting, dedication, and professionalism by building relationships in Tibet for over 12 years and reaching out to an extensive network of reliable sources when the 2008 uprising began. She helped cover the earliest stories of Tibetan unrest and brought critical information to RFA’s Tibetan audiences. Even as the Chinese crackdown began and as sources became afraid to talk on the phone, and Chinese authorities banned reporters from entering Tibet, she still found ways to get the truth out.

2004: RFA’s Tibetan service’s Kham dialect broadcaster Lobsang Chophel was awarded the David Burke Distinguished Journalism award by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Lobsang Choephel broke Rinpoche’s whereabouts after receiving a cassette recording from the Lama who was arrested on April 7, 2002 , by Sichuan province police and later charged with engineering a bomb blast on December 2, 2001, and for possession of arms and engaging in activities to “split the motherland.” The news led to mass protests by Tibetans in exile and persistent calls for his release.

2001: RFA Tibetan service’s senior editor Palden Gyal was awarded the Edward R. Murrow Award for Spot News Coverage of the Chinese Delegation at New Millennium Peace Conference in New York. Palden also received a 2001 New York Festivals finalist certificate in the category talk special/interview for his program “A Tibetan Woman Modern Artist in Exile.”

Exclusive Coverage and Story Highlights

A group of visiting Tibetan lamas tour RFA headquarters in March 2000.

RFA Tibetan has consistently broken major news from Tibet. Objective reporting and unbiased analyses have won us the trust of our listeners that they have repeatedly shared valuable story leads with us. News from inside Tibet is the specialty of RFA’s Tibetan Service. Some of the themes that have emerged over the last 15 years include: environmental issues, especially the impact of dams and mining; protests inside Tibet that have been covered by RFA but not by the Chinese state media; and the repression of popular Tibetan community figures, such as Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who are targeted for arrest.

It’s important to point out that, as in the case with Tenzin Delek and Dhondup Wangchen, we continue to follow up and report on-going developments. Here are some of our most memorable stories:

In 1997, the Tibetan Service was granted an exclusive interview by the Dalai Lama when he visited Radio Free Asia in July 1997.

In 2001, the first Sino-Tibetan dialogue opened with the Dalai Lama sending his emissaries to Beijing. Many Tibetans held great hope for an understanding with the Chinese government. The Tibetan Service devoted considerable coverage to that dialogue and subsequent talks although they ended in deadlock.


RFA Tibetan reporter Palden Gyal interviews Takna Jigme Sangpo, the longest serving prisoner from Tibet.

Tibet’s Longest-Held Political Prisoner Arrives in U.S.
Tibet’s longest-serving political prisoner, 73-year-old Tanak Jigme Zangpo, was freed March 31 after 37 years in Chinese-run jails and labor camps. “My body is very weak and shaky,” he said in a telephone interview with RFA. Since his arrest in 1965 for opposing Chinese control over the Himalayas, he said, “I have made the rounds of prisons. There were still nine years left of my jail time but I was told that I was being released for medical treatment.” He was last convicted in 1983 for putting up “counter-revolutionary” posters, then his sentence was extended in 1991 after he shouted “Free Tibet!” during a prison visit by a Swiss delegation. It was thought that his release, described by Amnesty International as “highly unusual,” was orchestrated to offset harsh criticism of China’s human rights abuses in Tibet before Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States at the end of that month.

RFA Tibetan interviews Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's brother, in 2005.

Dalai Lama’s Brother to Make First Visit to Tibet in 50 Years
RFA Tibetan reported that the elder brother of the Dalai Lama received permission to travel to Tibet in July for the first time in 50 years. Gyalo Thondup has acted as an envoy between Beijing and the Dalai Lama in the past and hoped for frank talks with Chinese and Tibetan authorities about China’s often heavy-handed treatment of the Himalayan territory. After his month-long visit to China, he told RFA’s Tibetan call-in program that he was “very hopeful” for Tibet’s future. “The main issue is to achieve progress inside Tibet by improving the living conditions of Tibetans in health and transportation,” he said.

Tibetan Envoys Return to India after Talks with Chinese Officials
The Tibetan service covered the visit of four special envoys of the Dalai Lama to Beijing and Lhasa, during which they spoke with officials of the United Front department in Beijing and in Lhasa. Beijing had described the visits as private and released no information, but RFA tracked down details through calls to a United Front official’s family and to hotels, learning of travel schedules. An RFA reporter caught up with the envoys at the airport there in New Delhi.

Tibetans Were Denied Lawyers in Bomb Trial
The Tibetan service reported that a Tibetan activist and an influential Tibetan monk were sentenced to death after being accused of involvement in a series of bombings between 1998 and 2002 in western China. The two were denied access to lawyers during their trial since they were labeled “reactionary and anti-government,” according to a relative. In a rare interview, the head of the Kardze Judiciary told RFA, “Their names were linked to all these explosions, and there were no other suspects.” The judge also said that the monk, Tenzin Deleg Rimpoche, confessed to five of the six explosions. One man was killed in the latest explosion, and 12 were injured during another.

Tibetan Monk Protest Innocence in Smuggled Audiotape
In a tape-recorded message smuggled out of his Chinese jail to RFA, an influential Tibetan monk who was recently sentenced to death insisted that he had nothing to do with a series of bomb blasts in western China. On the tape, Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche said that he was “completely innocent.” On January 25, his assistant Lobsang Dhondup was executed. Subsequently, relatives of both men were banned from traveling and discussing the case publicly. Leading news agencies and newspapers carried stories based on RFA’s reports on the case and, in press releases, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch cited RFA’s report on the smuggled tape.

Tibetan Nun Describes Abuse in Chinese Prison
RFA broke the story of a Tibetan nun, Ngawang Sangdrol, a former political prisoner, who was allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment. In October 2002, she was paroled from Lhasa’s notorious Drapchi prison while serving a repeatedly extended sentence and was not due to be released until 2011. The Chinese government granted her an exit visa to receive medical treatment abroad, but she was unaware until enroute on March 28 that she was coming to the United States. Detained and beaten at the age of 13 for opposing China’s rule in Tibet, Sangdrol, now in her mid-20s, was imprisoned at the age of 15, and sentenced to three years for attempting to demonstrate. After she and other imprisoned Buddhist nuns made a tape of songs about their love of family and Tibet, she became famous and was nicknamed one of the “Singing Nuns.” Also while in prison, she led protests, with both these incidents resulting in an extension of her term. In an hour-long interview on March 31 in RFA’s studios, she said that prison guards beat her on many occasions, once smashing mugs and pipes on her head until she bled. She went on to say, “After given medical parole from prison, there were still guards watching me all the time, even at home.”

Two Tibetan Monks Arrested
RFA quoted unnamed Tibetan sources in their report about local Chinese security officials detaining two Tibetan monks, Jigme Jamdrup, 37, and Kunchok Jamyang, 40, on April 11. Local security officials told relatives that the men could possibly be charged with separatist activites and undermining ethnic unity. Jamdrup was released 12 days later, but Jamyang remained in custody. Officials said they found documents in his home. Both men have been arrested in the past for “spreading propaganda” and for political reasons, sources said.

China Set to Install New Leaders In Tibet
The Tibetan service had an exclusive report on May 6 that China was about to replace two leaders in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Two new leaders will be appointed as the TAR Communist Party secretary and TAR People’s Congress chairman. The Service also reported that a new governor of the TAR would be appointed soon. Two weeks later, the official news agency, Xinhua News, confirmed the replacement of the TAR governor and TAR People’s Congress chairman.

RFA Tibetan interviews Lodi Gyari, Special Envoy of the Dalai Lama, in December 2002.

Tibetan Envoys Request Third China Trip
On June 12, RFA’s Tibetan service obtained the first interview with Lodi Gyari upon his arrival in India after a visit to Beijing. Gyari, one of the Dalai Lama’s four special envoys to China, said that Chinese officials were “open and candid” and appeared ready to move forward in their recently-concluded talks with the envoys. He also said that the Dalai Lama continues to hope for a visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region, under Chinese control since the 1950s. The envoys’ visit was not covered by the state-controlled Chinese media.

Tibetans Say Proposed Dam Would Hurt Environment
The Tibetan service broke the news on June 20 of a potentially high profile controversy over a hydroelectric dam in a Tibetan area in Sichuan Province. Hua Neng Company of China, directed by a son of the former Chinese Premier Li Peng, together with local government of Ganze Tibetan Prefecture in western Sichuan, was lobbying to build a hydroelectric dam at an environmentally fragile lake. Although many residents and environmentalists opposed the project, the dam received high-level financial and political support.

Tibetan Refugees in Nepal Returned to Chinese Authorities
Breaking the story of Tibetan refugees in Nepal being forcibly repatriated back to Tibet by the Nepalese authorities, RFA Tibetan reported that Chinese police took the Tibetans to Shigatse City where they were to be detained in the city’s “Repatriation Center.” Local officials told RFA the detainees could face three months of mandatory re-education and criminal charges.

Experts Cite Chinese Pressure to Back Proposed Dam
According to a secret government document obtained by RFA’s Tibetan Service, environmental experts in China were pressured into supporting the building of a hydroelectric dam in an historically Tibetan area. RFA explained the controversy, outlining the effects that the building of the dam would have on the economy and environment. The document, dated June 11, 2003, asserts that several officials from China’s Environmental Protection Agency and the Sichuan Environmental Protection Bureau who endorsed the dam two years ago hoped it wouldn’t be built. Environmentalists and scholars opposed the project and geologists considered the dam to be a hazard because it would be located inside the Xianshuhe earthquake zone.

China Sacks Tibetan Tour Guides in Favor of Chinese Graduates
A Tibetan source told RFA that China’s central government has ordered the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to replace foreign-educated Tibetan tourist guides with Chinese graduates. The order affects hundreds of Tibetans educated in India and Nepal. “This year about 160 Chinese students arrived from China, with more expected in July and August,” the source said, on condition of anonymity. “Some local Tibetans know English but cannot qualify for the job–the minimum qualification is a high school degree and preferably a degree from a Chinese college or university.” Authorities gave no explanation for the change.

Tibetan Political Prisoner Dies Suddenly
RFA’s Tibetan Service broke the news that a young Tibetan political prisoner died in a hospital, having been transferred there in September from prison when his health deteriorated. Nyima Drakpa, a monk in his late 20s, had been serving a nine-year sentence for “activities to split the motherland and destabilize the community.” RFA obtained a copy of a letter written by him in April 2001 and addressed to the Dalai Lama in which he detailed the torture he had undergone. He asked that the letter be released upon his death. “In March [2000], four Public Security people arrested me,” he wrote. “They beat me so severely that I couldn’t speak…. I confessed that I had put up posters [calling for Tibetan independence]. I know I will not survive long. I am not afraid of death…. After studying [Tibetan] history, I have the courage and determination to sacrifice even my life for the Tibetans. I wish for an independent country of our own where all Tibetans can enjoy real freedom.” A Chinese official in Dawu told RFA in a telephone interview that Nyima Drakpa was in good health. “He committed a serious mistake by undermining stability in the community. He is healthy, and I don’t know of any ailment.”

China Cracks Down on TV Station that Showed Tibetan Flag
RFA reported a recent incident in Lhasa in which a Tibet TV3 broadcast accidentally showed a banned Tibetan national flag. The station’s employees have since been undergoing re-education.  RFA’s exclusive report was confirmed and picked up by other news services, such as the Associated Press, Tibet News, and Phayul, a Tibetan news service and website.

Tibetan Jailed for Setting Blast at Television Tower
Chinese authorities in Tibet jailed a 32-year-old Tibetan man after he confessed to causing an explosion near a television tower outside Lhasa, RFA’s Tibetan Service reported. The 32-year-old man, identified only as Penpa, had been jailed indefinitely after he admitted under interrogation to causing the May 20 explosion, sources told RFA on condition of anonymity. “There was an explosion at a cable relay tower in Rak Township, in the Ngachen area. When the local security officials learned of the explosion, they dispatched a team to investigate,” one source said. “They arrested 16 Tibetans for interrogation. Later they released nine and detained the other seven for more interrogation. On May 24, Penpa confessed,” said the source. Officials declined to comment. Residents are mainly employed in stone work, and it is legal to possess explosive devices that facilitate mining.

Tibetan Monk Shot Dead in Qinghai, Officials Appeal for Calm
In an exclusive report, RFA’s Tibetan Service revealed that the leader of a Tibetan monastery in western China was shot dead after he and other monks demanded that local police pay for medical treatment they required after being beaten in custody. According to two witnesses, a Chinese police officer shot and killed the head monk from Golok Topden Monastery. Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed the shooting but declined to give details or say whether it was being investigated. Other RFA sources reported that tensions in the area had eased in recent days, but that residents were said to be planning protests against Chinese authorities. The RFA story was picked up by AP, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and numerous other media entities.

Hundreds of Jobless Tibetans Protest in Qinghai Province
The Tibetan service reported that at least 200 students protested outside local government offices in China’s western Qinghai Province every day for more than two weeks. The students, who are mostly Tibetan, say officials failed to deliver on promises to provide jobs to graduates. A government official said, “Their main complaint is that jobs are given to outside candidates who are brought into the area and they’re demanding that local applicants should be given preference,” he said. “Moreover, they do have written assurance of jobs from government officials. It’s difficult to resolve this issue since there are not enough jobs for all the protesters.”

Tibetans, Chinese Security Forces Clash in Qinghai
Anonymous official and civilian sources informed RFA’s Tibetan service that a protest of thousands of Tibetans in China’s Qinghai Province turned violent when security forces from outside the area tried to suppress the crowd. One official said that the incident was “not serious,” but other sources who asked to remain anonymous said shots were fired and some county government offices were burned. RFA’s attempts to independently verify casualties in the clash were unsuccessful. The protest erupted after Dzato County officials levied a tax of 1,500 yuan (U.S. $181) per person for the harvesting of yartsa gunbu, a fungus used in many Tibetan herbal medicines and often sold at a high price.

Tibetan Nomads Set Fire to Chinese Slaughterhouse in Sichuan
The Tibetan service reported that several hundred Tibetans broke into a Chinese-owned slaughterhouse in the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in early August. After releasing all the animals found inside, the crowd set fire to the building. Sources told RFA that the incident resulted in dozens of arrests. The story, an RFA exclusive, was picked up by online news websites and by Chinese-language Taiwan and Hong Kong media.

Tibetans Swear Off Endangered Furs after Dalai Lama Appeal
Authorities in the Southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan detained eight youths who were advocating the destruction of clothes made of endangered animal skins. A source inside China told RFA, “Eight youths who started activities at Kirti Monastery were arrested and detained. They are still detained in a local police detention center, four to a room. They were not punished or beaten but subjected to intense interrogation.” The source said that all had denied launching the anti-fur campaign “under outside influence,” a term used by Chinese officials to refer to the Dalai Lama, who recently called for an end to the use of the skins in traditional Tibetan dress. Wire services, Web media, and human rights and environmental protection groups picked up RFA’s story.

Tibetans, Westerners Describe Deadly Shooting at China-Nepal Border
Members of a group of 43 Tibetans told RFA’s Tibetan service of their terrifying flight to Nepal under deadly fire from Chinese border guards who took several dozen other Tibetans into custody. Witnesses said at least one person was killed and at least one wounded by gunfire on September 30 near the Himalayan pass at Nangpa La in the Mount Everest region. Others set the death toll higher. Another 36 or 37 Tibetans were detained, witnesses told RFA. The group, which originally numbered around 80 Tibetans, began their journey out of Chinese-controlled Tibet on September 30 or October 1, according to members of the group – 41 asylum-seekers and two Tibetan escorts – who arrived in Kathmandu on October 10.

Three Detained for Allegedly Helping Tibetans Flee
The Tibetan service carried an exclusive report about the detention by Chinese authorities in Lhasa of three people for allegedly escorting Tibetan asylum-seekers from China to India. RFA’s report was picked up by major wire services like Reuters, AP, AFP, and many other Asian newspapers.

China Detains Olympic Protesters on Everest
RFA’s Tibetan service broke the news that five American activists, including a Tibetan-American, had staged a protest and were detained by the Chinese authorities in the base camp of Mount Everest. The protest was against China’s decision to carry the Olympic Torch over Mount Everest. One of the activists called RFA from inside the detention center by using her cell phone, making RFA the only news service to report the incident with a first-hand account from inside the detention center. Two days later, RFA reported the release of the five detainees.

Mining Sparks Clash in Tibetan Area of Sichuan
RFA’s Tibetan service carried a series of reports on a major clash in China’s Sichuan province between local Tibetans and a state-owned mining company operating on a mountain considered sacred by Tibetans. A peaceful protest against the mining turned into a riot, about twenty protestors were detained, and hundreds more fled into the mountains to avoid arrest. The mining was later halted on orders from provincial authorities. RFA obtained interviews with protesters, Tibetan and Chinese eyewitnesses, and the county public security bureau chief.

RFA Launches Its First WebTV
On July 19, RFA’s Tibetan service launched its first WebTV, a 30-minute interview with Lodi Gyari, special envoy of the Dalai Lama, about his recent trip to Beijing to negotiate with the Chinese government.

Tibetans, Chinese Police in Sichuan Festival Standoff
RFA told the story of Rongyal Adrak of Lithang who was arrested and imprisoned for calling for Tibet’s independence and Dalai Lama’s return during the annual horse race festival in Lithang on August 1.

China Replaces Local Tibetan Officials in Lithang After Protest
RFA Tibetan has uncovered a campaign against ethnic Tibetan officials inside the Chinese government who are secret supporters of the Dalai Lama. On September 4, the service reported that Chinese authorities in the eastern Tibetan county of Lithang were removing Tibetan officials and replacing them with Chinese officials after a protest calling for the return of the exiled Dalai Lama. The county police chief and Communist Party secretary were among those ousted.

China Hardens Tibet Policy Along Ethnic Lines
In an exclusive story, RFA’S Tibetan service released an internal memo of the Chinese Communist Party’s Tibet Commission for Discipline Inspection, disclosing the intensified crackdown on supporters of Tibet independence and the Dalai Lama, out of fear that Tibetans will turn against the Communist Party amid a growing wave of protests and civil disobedience.  It was picked up by other wire services and websites.

Tibetan Nomads Clash with Police After Dispute
RFA’s Tibetan service reported that hundreds of Tibetan nomads clashed with armed police in the Nagchu area, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), after a dispute between three teenage monks and Chinese shopkeepers. Initial reports indicated that about 800 armed police were dispatched, and over 100 people were detained, but on November 27, RFA learned 76 were detained. Two days later, China’s official newswire, Xinhua, confirmed the clash, but reported only seven arrests.

Tibetan Teachers Protest Low Pay in China’s Qinghai
RFA reported an exclusive story that hundreds of Tibetan college graduates staged a protest in front of the county office building in Rebkong, Qinghai Province. These students work as village teachers and demanded a raise in their meager pay. The protest had been going on for two weeks, but no other media reported this story.

Two Monks from Panchen Lamas Monastery Commit Suicide
RFA reported in an exclusive news story that two senior monks of the Tashilhunpo monastery in Tibet’s second biggest city, Shigatse, have committed suicide, following a campaign of exclusion by Chinese officials there. Tashilhunpo Monastery is the seat of the disputed Panchen Lama and the scene of bitter anti-Chinese protests in the mid-1990s.


Tibetan’s protesting the Lhasa crackdown in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC on March 17, 2008.

On March 10, Tibetan monks staged a peaceful march in Lhasa to mark the 49th anniversary of the 1959 uprising. RFA provided extensive around-the-clock coverage of the crackdown by Chinese authorities and the ensuing violence. RFA’s Tibetan service led international coverage of the event with breaking stories, in-country sources, and on-the-scene reports. Numerous international media cited RFA in their reports, and RFA’s Tibetan service director, deputy director, as well as staff members, were interviewed as Tibetan experts. Vice President of Programming Dan Southerland was also interviewed by several radio stations about the international ramifications of the Tibetan protests.

China Detains Tibetan Monks Protesting on Key Anniversary
March 10: RFA’s Tibetan service broke the news of a Lhasa demonstration. About 300 monks from Lhasa’s Drepung monastery marched to downtown Lhasa to demand the release of monks detained earlier. Another group of monks from Sera monastery staged a loud protest in front of the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa, waving banners and shouting slogans. Dozens of monks from these two demonstrations were detained. RFA’s breaking news stories were picked up by many news organizations all over the world.

Chinese Police Fire Tear-Gas at Protesting Tibetan Monks
March 12: RFA again broke the news of a second-day protest by hundreds of monks from Sera monastery in Lhasa. Chinese armed police fired tear-gas to disperse the crowd. The monks were demanding the release of fellow Sera monks detained for protesting the day before. Again, RFA’s breaking news was carried by many news organizations.

China Clamps Down on Tibetan Protests as Many Deaths, Injuries Reported
March 14: RFA broke the news from Lhasa that anti-China protests had turned violent, and an unknown number of people were killed and injured when Chinese forces fired on the rioting crowds. RFA’s breaking news became the major source of news from Tibet.

Noted Tibetan Arrested
The Tibetan service reported that Chinese authorities in Tibet arrested a leading Tibetan writer, television producer, and performer as part of a major crackdown on anti-Chinese protests in the region. Plainclothes state security officers escorted Jamyang Kyi, 40, who has worked as a producer in the Tibetan-language section of state-run Qinghai TV for two decades. She is well-known among Tibetans as an activist on women’s issues, and she toured the United States to sing and lecture in 2006. An authoritative source in Beijing said she had been formally arrested by the Xining Public Security Bureau, although the charges against her were unknown. In China, a formal arrest almost always precedes a conviction. “Security people went to Jamyang Kyi’s house to search her computer, her mailing list, and contact numbers and took all these away,” another source in Xining said.

Dhondup Gonsar of RFA's Tibetan service files a live report on the Beijing Olympics from Hong Kong.

Tibetans around the world and their supporters turned the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games a focal point of worldwide protest against Chinese authorities violation of Tibetan people’s human rights in general and exploitation of Tibet’s fragile ecosystem. The Tibetan service devoted a lot of coverage time to their stories.

Tibetan Monks Confined During Games
A reporter from RFA’s Tibetan was granted a visa by the Chinese government to cover the Beijing Olympics. She filed reports from the Birds Nest stadium and also reported her meetings with Tibetans living in Beijing. The Tibetan service’s Dhondup Namgyal covered Beijing Olympic Games from Hong Kong as certain events were also held there.

Tibetans Plan ‘Subdued’ New Year
RFA Tibetan broke several stories on new protests and unrest in Tibet, including resistance to Chinese officials’ attempts to organize Tibetan New Year celebrations. Many Tibetans opted to skip the traditional Tibetan New Year, or Losar, festivities in response to China’s heavy-handed crackdown the previous year on protests against Chinese rule.

Standoff at Tibet Gold Mine
The Tibetan Service filed a series of reports on a conflict between local people and the government over a mine, built by the Chinese, in Markham County, eastern Tibet.  Hundreds of Tibetans protested plans to expand the mine and blocked access to the area because of hazardous waste at the site. Both sides had agreed in early June that the mine would cease operations. This is the first time a dispute over mining issues was settled in favor of local Tibetans rather than the government-backed Chinese firms.

The Chinese government confiscated satellite dishes to prevent Tibetans from listening to RFA radio broadcasts.

Tibetan TV Dishes Pulled
On June 21, RFA’s Tibetan Service obtained Chinese official documents, photos of confiscated satellite dishes, and reports of eyewitnesses, breaking the story that Chinese authorities have begun to remove satellite dishes in a Tibetan-populated region of China to block access to foreign broadcasts. Tibetan-language broadcasts by Radio Free Asia and Voice of America appear to be particular targets of the campaign, one source said.  A Gannan prefecture document obtained by RFA, citing State Council Document #129, describes what it calls “unprecedented efforts to collect satellite dishes” to restrict access to long-distance broadcasts in Gansu province, a site of repeated Tibetan protests against Chinese rule during the past year.  Anyone failing to comply with government directives to remove the dishes would be “dealt with in accordance with the law,” the memo said.

China Blocks Tibet Lawyers

China Jails Tibetan Filmmaker
The Tibetan Service reported two exclusive stories that Chinese authorities denied the right to legal representation to a Tibetan filmmaker and two monks in two separate cases, in what appears to be a wider crackdown on independent lawyers. In China’s Qinghai province, court officials told Beijing lawyer Li Dunyong that he would not be allowed to defend Tibetan documentary producer Dhondup Wangchen. Li was hired by the family and met briefly with Wangchen in Xining but returned to Beijing under pressure from authorities in Qinghai and Beijing. Li told RFA sources that Chinese authorities hope to appoint their own lawyers to guarantee harsh punishment.  In another case, Beijing lawyer Li Fangping was blocked from representing two Tibetan monks from Labrang monastery in Gansu province who were arrested after taking part in a political protest. Li, a member of Beijing’s Ruifeng Law Firm, had traveled to Gansu after the defendants’ families hired him, but was not allowed to meet with the men.

Tibetan ‘Web Surfer’ Detained
Detailing the detention of a 19-year old Tibetan youth in Lhasa for viewing restricted content at an Internet café, RFA Tibetan reported in an exclusive story that the accessed material included essays on Tibetan independence, as well as descriptions and photos of Tibetan protests last year. Although the authorities said they had no information about the case, RFA obtained confirmation from an official source that clearly shows the youth was detained.

Missing Tibetan Said Detained
In another exclusive, RFA detailed that a young Tibetan writer and university student was detained by authorities in China’s Sichuan province. RFA sources confirmed that he was detained and probably held in a Public Security Bureau (PSB) detention center. Later, the PSB informed his family that he was in custody. The writer, a native of Ngaba prefecture of Sichuan province and a student at the Northwest Minorities University in Lanzhou, Gansu province, was the editor of a banned magazine and had posted blogs that focused on democracy issues and anti-China protests in Tibet.

September 24, 2009: RFA Tibetan reporter Karma Zurkhang reports from the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

Tibetans Protest Alleged Scam
RFA’s Tibetan Service reported that hundreds of Tibetans, claiming they were cheated in a pyramid scheme run by TIENS, a health-products company, were demanding refunds and staging protests in several Chinese cities. The group’s representatives said Tibetan investors were promised large returns on initial investments but received nothing.

Tibetan Executions Reported
Chinese authorities executed at least three people convicted of rioting during the widespread uprising against Chinese rule in March 2008, the Tibetan service reported. Capital punishment is administered only rarely in Tibet, experts say. A source in Lhasa identified one of the men executed as Lobsang Gyaltsen from Lhasa’s Lubuk township. “He was executed for allegedly killing a Chinese national by setting a shop on fire in Lhasa,” the source said. Another source in Lhasa, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the executions went unmentioned in official media.

Asia Opens to Obama on Debut Tour
Kalden Lodoe, RFA’s Tibetan Service correspondent in Washington, traveled with the presidential press corps when U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to China from November 15-18, 2009. Lodoe followed the President’s itinerary and covered his meetings with Chinese officials. The coverage gathered immense interest and excitement among Tibetans all over the world.


January 20, 2009: RFA Tibetan reporter Yeshi Tashi reports on the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington, DC.

Filmmaker’s Family to Appeal
In on-going coverage, RFA’s Tibetan Service reported the news of the secret trial and sentencing of a Tibetan filmmaker and aired a follow-up news story about the family’s plan to appeal. A Chinese court in Qinghai Province sentenced Dhondup Wangchen, a Tibetan filmmaker who returned from exile to make a documentary about his homeland, to a six-year jail term. He was charged of “splitting the Motherland” for making the documentary. The family was not informed of the sentencing, and officials only admitted the trial took place after the family’s inquiry. The case received wide attention in the international press.

Tibetan Singer Gets Prison
RFA’s Tibetan service obtained legal documents recently smuggled out of China, showing that authorities in a Tibetan area of western China sent a local singer to prison. Tashi Dhondup, 30, was sentenced by the Malho Municipal Committee to 15 months’ “re-education through labor.” An ethnic Mongol from the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture,Tashi Dhondup “violated laws” by singing songs in support of Tibetan independence and of the Dalai Lama.

Monks in Kham Kyigudo help victims of earthquake in 2009.

China Declares Quake Disaster
In 2010, Kyegudo (Yushu) in eastern Tibet was wrecked by a powerful earthquake leaving thousands of Tibetans homeless and destitute. RFA’s Tibetan service maintained constant contact with sources inside Tibet to obtain information from the scene to inform listeners about evolving circumstances.

The Service’s led on-going coverage focused on the earthquake in Yushu, a mostly Tibetan-inhabited area in China’s Qinghai province. RFA aired hourly updates from morning to midnight, and reported many exclusive stories. Many local people, rescue workers, and monks who were part of the rescue effort called RFA and said they trusted RFA’s broadcasts for providing timely news and valuable information. RFA has continued to keep in contact with the people in Yushu in order to provide updated information to listeners around the world.

Villagers Renew Mine Protests
Thousands of villagers in Markham County in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) clashed with Chinese police during a protest against mining in a sacred mountain area, reported RFA’s Tibetan Service in an exclusive story. Sources told RFA that the mining company has strong government connections. Five locals were reportedly injured during the clash. About 12 people who were petitioning to the TAR and Sichuan provincial government were detained.

Police Fire on Mine Protesters
Police fired on a group of Tibetan protesters and killed four, including the group’s leader, in Palyul county, Ganzi Tibetan prefecture, Sichuan province. The Tibetan villagers were protesting the expansion of a state-sponsored gold mining operation they said is harming the environment.  As many as 30 other protesters were wounded or detained. RFA’s report was picked up by major wire services including AP, Reuters, AFP, and many news websites. Three days later, the Chinese official news agency Xinhua reported the clash but said that police had fired warning shots and that a stray bullet had “accidentally” killed the leader of the protesters. They also said about 17 police were wounded and about 36 protesters were arrested.

October 3, 2010: Nepalese police confiscate Tibetan ballot boxes. RFA Tibetan service stringer Thupten Sangay shot the video and broke the story.

Villagers Block Work on Dam

RFA Tibetan reported in an exclusive story that several thousand Tibetan villagers in Driru county in the Tibet Autonomous Region protested against Chinese government-sponsored mining operations a week earlier and temporarily stopped the mining. On September 26, Chinese mining workers came back with a permit that they claimed was obtained from the Communist Party Secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region, and they accused the Tibetan villagers of “separatist” activity.

Police Confiscate Tibetan Ballots
RFA’s Tibetan service broke the news of Nepalese police confiscating ballot boxes in three different voting centers in Kathmandu where Tibetan exiles held preliminary elections for the exile government’s Chief Minister and members of the exile parliament. An RFA reporter shot video footage of the police action, which was the only visual record of the event. The video was posted on RFA’s website, and it and RFA’s story were widely carried by other major news organizations, including CNN and Reuters.

Students protest against replacing Tibetan textbooks with Chinese language textbooks.

Students Protest Language Change
RFA broke the news of a student protest in Qinghai province over China’s new language policy. Thousands of Tibetan students in Rebkong, Qinghai province, protested a forced change in the language of their instruction from Tibetan to Chinese. RFA posted videos and photos taken by citizen journalists on RFA’s website, and the story was picked up by many news organizations. Protests spread to other areas in the following week and RFA’s Tibetan service continued its coverage.

Police Crack Down on Banned Songs
RFA’s Tibetan Service reported in an exclusive story that Chinese security authorities in Tibet have banned songs deemed to be “reactionary” and are detaining young Tibetans found in possession of the songs on their mobile phones. More than 20 young Tibetans were rounded up for downloading these songs since a “Strike Hard” campaign was launched this winter in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Tibetan Singer Released from Jail
The Tibetan service reported that a popular Tibetan singer, Tashi Dhondup, has been released from jail after serving most of a 15-month sentence for recording songs calling for Tibetan independence.

Crackdown on Monks Continues
Protest Monk Dies

RFA Tibetan continued its coverage of tensions and crackdowns at the Kirti monastery and in the surrounding areas in Ngaba prefecture, Sichuan province. In late March, authorities in Ngaba began a political re-education campaign in the monastery, and the monks’ movements were severely restricted. On April 3, a dozen Tibetans were detained in Ngaba on suspicion of involvement with a monk who died of self-immolation in a protest against Chinese rule. A monk studying in Beijing was also detained.


The Tibetan Service released an exclusive video from inside Tibet showing villagers in the Kardze Tibetan Prefecture giving two political prisoners a warm reception after they were released from jail. The video, shot by a bystander and sent to an RFA stringer in India, showed motorcades and villagers standing along the road. The two political prisoners were jailed during the 2008 Tibetan protest and were released last March.

RFA broadcasts a live webcast of the elections of the Tibetan parliament.

Radio Free Asia Hosts Tibetan Exile Prime Minister Live Debate
In his annual address to the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama reiterated emphatically that he would retire fully from political leadership and called upon Tibetan people to discuss amendments to the Tibetan charter.The Tibetan service covered all the proceedings of the election of Kalon Tripa.The service organized many debates, panel discussions, and editorial analyses, culminating in the final debate between the three candidates from three venues – Dharamsala and Bylakuppe from India and RFA headquarters in Washington, D C. The Tibetan service devoted considerable coverage to the election of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile from the nomination process in 2010 through the conclusion of the final election on April 28, 2011.

Radio Free Asia Hosts First Interview With Exile Tibetan Prime Minister-Elect Lobsang Sangay
The declared winner of the Tibetan exile government elections, Lobsang Sangay, gave RFA’s Tibetan service his first interview since being named prime minister-elect. During his interview at RFA’s headquarters in Washington, Sangay commented on the Dalai Lama’s recently announced intention to retire and hand political power to the next prime minister of the exile government. “The Dalai Lama … has decided to transfer political power to the Tibetan people by entrusting whom they have magnanimously chosen as the head of their exile government,” Sangay said during an interview that was webcast on RFA’s Tibetan service’s website. “We must respect the wishes and wisdom of His Holiness and find ways to implement his decision.”

The Dalai Lama addresses RFA staff at RFA headquarters on July 11, 2011.

Radio Free Asia Hosts Dalai Lama on Anniversary Year
On July 11, RFA hosted His Holiness the Dalai Lama at its Washington, DC headquarters. The Tibetan spiritual leader made remarks on RFA’s 15th anniversary year to staff from all nine RFA language services, commending them for delivering a free press to closed societies. In his address to RFA’s staff, the Dalai Lama spoke about the value of democracy, freedom, and civil law, citing education as the key to ensuring those principles endure. The Dalai Lama said RFA is “extremely helpful” and lauded its services for their contribution in working to “educate people who have no freedom of information.

‘It Is Something like a Dream’ to Visit Radio Free Asia: Tibetan Karmapa
Tibetan spiritual leader Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, visited RFA’s headquarters in Washington, DC on July 15. During the Tibetan lama’s visit, he met privately with RFA’s leadership, gave an interview to RFA’s Tibetan service, and met with RFA Tibetan’s language service staff. He spoke about RFA’s important role in its 15th anniversary year as a broadcaster for the Tibetan community both in Tibetan regions inside China and around the world. “It is something like a dream for me to be physically present at Radio Free Asia,” the Karmapa said in his meeting with RFA’s Tibetan staff. “When I was in Tibet and listened to RFA Tibetan service programs, I wished that I could personally meet you in person. I am extremely delighted to be present amongst you in person.”


This year, Radio Free Asia celebrates 15 years of bringing objective, accurate, and timely news to people in Asian countries that restrict free speech and free media.
While much has changed at RFA since we began in 1996, our mission has remained the same: to advance the principles of the fundamental right to the free-flow of information and the right to seek, receive, and impart information.
Please take a moment to explore this webpage where you can revisit important milestones, accomplishments, and moments from RFA’s early days to the present.
—Libby Liu, President of RFA

BBG resolution

On December 17, 2010 the Broadcasting Board of Governors passed this resolution celebrating and commemorating RFA's 15 years of impact broadcasting.

Click here to read the resolution (PDF)

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