Immediately following her February 9, 2019 election as student president at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, Chemi Lhamo, a 22-year-old Canadian citizen of Tibetan origin, became the target of a widespread harassment campaign, apparently based on her ethnic identity.
By 12:00pm on the day she was elected, Lhamo reported receiving incessant alerts on her cell phone, notifying her of responses to a photo she had posted on Instagram containing the phrase “Losar Tashi Selek”, a Tibetan greeting used during the celebration of the Lunar New Year. Ultimately, Lhamo was the target of thousands of anti-Tibet social media posts, some of which explicitly threatened her life, others of which referred to her as a “Tibetan separatist.” In addition, a petition to have Lhamo removed from her newly-elected office was signed by nearly 10,000 people. Lhamo eventually contacted the University of Toronto about concerns for her safety, which led to a day-long closure of her office on Monday February 11.
China’s Consulate General in Toronto released a statement denying any involvement in the campaign of harassment against Lhamo.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about apparently coordinated, violent threats against a student, apparently based on national or ethnic identity. Where threats give rise to a credible risk of harm, state and university authorities have an obligation to ensure the safety of students, to investigate threats, and to hold perpetrators accountable. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such acts undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.