Last Saturday, Tibetans in Switzerland, a group estimated to number some 7,500 people, celebrated the 59th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising Day – a failed rebellion against Chinese occupation.
The event was designed to call attention to the plight of Tibetans in the face of ongoing human rights abuses on the part of Chinese government.
But among the 3,500 attendees at the Geneva rally were a pair of Chinese spies, according to event participants and organizers.
One of the suspected spies was filmed by Tenzin Losinger, a young woman from Zurich with Tibetan roots.
Initially, when asked by Losinger why he was taking photographs of the event, the man claimed he was a Japanese tourist.
But in the video footage taken by Losinger and shared by Swiss daily the Tages Anzeiger, the man can be seen rapidly walking off and dodging questions about his motives for taking the pictures.
Wirklich peinlich. Das ‘mächtige China' schickt zwei leicht zu vertreibende und sehr auffällige Spione an unsere Demo, um uns zu filmen und beobachten. So nicht! @srfnews @tagesanzeiger #chinesischespione #gendemo #schweizerboden #10march #freetibet #uprisingday pic.twitter.com/aNNAM2nZlP— Tenzin Kelden (@TenzinKelden) March 10, 2018
“Why are you running away if you are not a Chinese spy?” the young woman can be heard asking as the man begins to jog from the scene.
Thomas Büchli, President of the Swiss-Tibetan fellowship, who spoke at the Geneva rally on Saturday, said he believed the photos were taken by people in the pay of the Chinese embassy. He added this was not the first time this had happened.
He called on Bern to officially complain to the Chinese embassy.
Sources in the Tibetan community told the Tages Anzeiger a criminal complaint had been filed with federal prosecutors but the office was unable to confirm this on Monday. The office also said it was uncertain if there was sufficient evidence to take up any such complaint.
But the Tibetan community maintains it had been the subject of increasing oppression since Bern and Beijing signed a free-trade agreement in 2013.
In a statement on Friday, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) said Tibetans in Switzerland were finding it increasingly difficult to express their opinions, saying “restrictions are being imposed in connection with demonstrations and events” and mentioning Xi Jinping's state visit in 2017 as an example.
The STP also noted that Switzerland no longer recognises Tibetan origins in identity documents and now just specifies “China” as the country of origin.
The group added that Tibetans in Switzerland were finding it increasingly difficult to obtain travel documents. With travel papers being rejected by Chinese authorities, they cannot leave the country, the STP said.