Washington, USA: Tibetan students demonstrated against a US corporation on Monday in two provinces in California because it “sold” DNA tests to Tibetan police, enabling widespread monitoring and violations of human rights.
They demonstrated against Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. in Contra Costa and Alameda counties with the slogan “Hands Off Tibetan DNA.” The company’s products, according to protesters, may have contributed to the treatment of Tibetans by the Chinese authorities.
This is not the company’s first involvement in the dismal policies of widespread surveillance and repression carried out by the Chinese government. Thermo Fisher has faced criticism in the past for providing DNA tools to the Xinjiang police.
Human Rights Watch published a report titled China: New Evidence of Mass DNA Collection in Tibet on September 5, 2022. The study claims that the DNA collection campaign in Tibet involves children as young as five years old, in flagrant violation of the fundamental standards of free and informed consent.
Chinese authorities may have gathered somewhere between 9,19,282 and 1,206,962 DNA samples in areas of Tibet referred to by the government of China as the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2016. This is according to another analysis released in the same month by The Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto.
According to the report, Chinese police visited Tibetans in their homes, monasteries, workplaces, neighbourhoods, and even schools to obtain “pin-prick blood samples.”
With the assistance of significant business partners in the West, the Chinese government is creating the largest police-run DNA database in the world. Thermo Fisher Scientific, a business based in Massachusetts, is one such partner.
Tibetans and members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) demanded explanations from Thermo Fisher Scientific in December 2022 regarding the chain of events leading to China’s massive DNA collection in Tibet and the contribution of its goods to Tibet’s human rights violations.
On December 15, 2022, the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) commissioners wrote to Marc Casper, the chairman as well as CEO of Thermo Fisher Scientific, expressing their concern about the use of his company’s products for mass DNA collection in Tibet, which “could further result in gross violations” of human rights of ethnic minorities in China.
The nonpartisan letter was signed by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), the CECC’s ranking members, as well as Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), who serve as the commission’s chair and co-chair, respectively.
Thermo Fisher Scientific is being pressed to respond to whether its products involve the mass collection of DNA in Tibet by organisations such as the International Tibet Network, Students for a Free Tibet, the Tibetan Association of Boston, and Tibetan activists and supporters.
Since October, Tibet organisations have contacted the company several times, asking for a meeting with Thermo Fisher CEO Marc Casper as well as for thorough answers to inquiries regarding the company’s knowledge of equipment sales to police in the occupied Tibetan region as well as what steps the company has taken to prevent product misuse, according to the organisations. Chinese officials have promoted the DNA collecting programme as a way to help them solve crimes (such as bank robbery or kidnapping).
According to the Tibet Rights organisation, however, this is a classic instance of an authoritarian, imperialist state developing new ways to oppress people under the guise of “stability maintenance and social control.”