TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Tibetan student elected president of a Canadian university’s student union has been hit with backlash from Chinese peers.
Chemi Lhamo, who studies at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus, posted the following message on her Instagram page Sunday following news of her victory:
“Thank you to everyone for all the support and love. I’m honoured to share that I will be serving as the President of the University of Toronto Scarborough Student’s Union starting May 1st once ratified. Driven by my own values of wisdom and compassion, I’m looking forward to this new step.”
In the three days since the message was published, all of Lhamo’s Instagram posts have been flooded with inflammatory comments declaring support for China's occupation of Tibet, and denouncing her as a “religious whore” and “opportunistic traitor” among countless other insults.
University of Toronto hosts one of the largest bodies of overseas Chinese students in the world, with 12,000 Chinese nationals currently choosing to study there. Lhamo’s election has incensed anger among both the local Chinese student population and online commenters worldwide.
On Feb. 8, a post began circulating on Chinese messenger app WeChat directing attention to a Change.org petition that calls for Lhamo’s impeachment. The author of the post wrote, “Part of our university fees go directly to the Scarborough Campus Student Union. They take our money then use it for this kind of thing?”
The petition itself (written in broken English) states Lhamo has been “selling the miserable experience to students so that they will sympathise her and give her vote” and has “too much connection with outside groups” that advocate on “irrational” political issues.
Although the petition has already gathered close to 10,000 signatures, it is unlikely to have any effect on Lhamo’s right to serve as student union president. The union has no legal obligation to respond to petitions.
Lhamo is a fourth-year Neuroscience and Psychology student at the University of Toronto who grew up in India. She described herself as a “stateless Tibetan refugee” to student newspaper The Varsity.
The student’s Instagram page shows she is an avid supporter of Tibetan rights and has participated in multiple campaigns to advocate for Tibetan freedom.
Although negative comments and insults continue to flood across Lhamo’s social media, supporters have begun to counteract them with positive messages congratulating her on her success in both English and Chinese. Many of the comments appear to have come from Taiwanese citizens, declaring joint support for the freedom of Tibet and Taiwan.