Queens Public Library removed a controversial photo exhibit from its Elmhurst branch Saturday following protests by the Tibetan community.
Students for a free Tibet and the regional Tibetan Youth Council and their allies argued the exhibit sponsored by the Chinese Consulate was propaganda and was unacceptable in Queens, which has one of the largest diaspora communities of Tibetans in the world.
“The Chinese Consulate and its affiliate made the decision to discontinue the exhibit,” Queens Public Library said in a statement. “We thank the Tibetan community for the ongoing conversations with us, and we look forward to future collaborations with them.”
More than 200 Tibetan community members and supporters joined to celebrate the victory of the campaign and organized Tibetan cultural dance outside the Elmhurst Library. Congressman Tom Suozzi, who sits on the Executive Commission on China, joined the celebration.
“Congratulations! This is a big victory. Because there is a lot of money involved, a lot of bureaucracy involved, but in the end the truth prevailed,” Suozzi shouted into a bullhorn. “We should thank the library people for removing this exhibition and we should thank all the supporters and organizers. This is a very serious issue. The American people need to realize how China treats its own people not only Tibetans but the Uyghur, the students in Hong Kong and we have to stand up for human rights for all the people throughout the world. I will continue to fight for you. Congratulations on the victory of the Tibetan people.”
A member of Students for a Free Tibet raised the issue during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Forest Hills town hall on Feb. 19. The mayor acknowledged that “no one has suffered more than the Tibetan people” since the independent country was invaded by China in 1959 and continues to be occupied today.
“I didn’t have any reason to believe that any of our library systems would present the Chinese government point of view,” de Blasio said. “I would’ve assumed the other way around, honestly, and I’d be getting the complaint from the Chinese government.”
Former political prisoner Nyima Lhamo, a niece of the late religious leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who died in Chinese custody while serving a sentence on charges of “terrorism and inciting separatism,” supported the Elmhurst protests.
“After escaping Tibet and eventually moving to Queens, I didn’t think that I would still be confronted with Chinese lies about my people,” Lhamo said. “Inside Tibet, thousands of human rights defenders and activists like us are still being silenced every day. Today is a major victory for Tibet, but we must continue fighting to amplify and uplift the voices of those still inside Tibet.”
The protesters said the exhibit showed several pictures of Tibetans and Tibet that aimed to educate viewers using distorted facts about the political status of Tibet. The exhibit depicted Tibet as a place where freedom of religion and language rights are respected, lies which whitewash China’s brutal human rights atrocities.
“This is a huge victory for Tibet and the Tibetan community in Queens. The decision of the Chinese consulate to shut down their propaganda exhibition at the Queens Library shows that activism and truth are more powerful than propaganda and dictatorship,” Student for a Free Tibet Executive Director Dorjee Tseten said. “This is also a lesson for other institutions to be careful of similar propaganda efforts by the Chinese government. We must continue to hold libraries, universities and all economic institutions accountable for sharing accurate information.”