Journalist wants to put human face on painful issues in Tibet

A vigil participant holds a placard bearing the image of a self-immolator. - Katie Lin
A vigil participant holds a placard bearing the image of a self-immolator.
— image credit: Katie Lin

Journalist Katie Lin wants to bring awareness of the issues facing Tibet to the Cowichan Valley and educate the community about the horrific practice of self-immolation.

Cowichan-raised Lin traveled to Dharamsala, India earlier this year to work with the Tibet Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. There, she filmed her documentary Beyond the Numbers: A Human Perspective on Tibet Self-Immolation, which will be screened in Duncan next week.

“We wanted to give a new perspective so we approached friends and relatives who have had family that are self-immolated to bring life to the self-immolators and to make this much more real,” Lin said.

“People don’t relate to numbers well and what we do is try to make this to a human relationship. Everyone is someone’s father, sister, cousin and we can relate to those human relationships.”

Self-immolation is when someone, usually in an act of protest, sets fire to himself or herself. There have been more than 90 self-immolators since 2009 and this form of protest has become more frequent in recent months. Tibetans have faced cultural and religious oppression by the Chinese government for decades.

“They are looking for religious and cultural freedom and they are hoping to achieve this by getting the attention of the outside world,” Lin said. “I like to think they are now getting attention but there hasn’t been intervention. We can hear about it need to see it because it’s graphic and disgusting and that’s is the reality.”

Lin says that as the Harper government enters trade negotiations with China, Canadians should be aware of human rights abuses and hold governments accountable.

“As Canadians we don’t feel the ramifications of it, but the government is in business with China and who knows what will happen if this continues unaddressed,” she said. “We should start thinking about human rights and accountability and the kind of role that plays with China and the future.”

Lin faced many challenges while filming her documentary, but the language barrier posed the greatest problem.

“I couldn’t understand what was happening in my interview, I had to trust my translator that the information I was getting was good. I got some good interviews but it’s been a process,” she said. “I had to be conscious that a lot of these people still have family in Tibet, so disguising their identity was an important factor.”

She hopes this documentary will inform more people about Tibet and bring the globe to her hometown.

“It’s not a debate, I want it to be educational and for people to become interested and how we fit into this global community and its politics. The documentary is a point for discussion,” she said.

For more information contact the Old Fire House Wine Bar at 250-597-3473.


Your ticket

What: Beyond the Numbers, a documentary film screening and panel discussion

Where: Old Fire House Wine Bar, 40 Ingam Street, Duncan

When: 6 p.m., Dec. 13. Space is limited so it is recommended that you reserve a spot in advance.

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