[BOSTON] Global Tibet activists are challenging Thermo Fisher Scientific following revelations that the US company’s equipment is being used by Chinese police to carry out a massive program of DNA harvesting targeting over a million Tibetans.

Since October, Tibet groups have contacted the company on multiple occasions, requesting a meeting with Thermo Fisher CEO Marc Casper and for detailed responses to questions about the company’s knowledge of equipment sales to police in occupied Tibet and what steps the company has taken to prevent misuse of its products. On December 15th, the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China addressed a letter to Marc Casper expressing concerns and urging the company to consider a “blanket prohibition on all sales of its products to the People’s Republic of China”.

Tibet groups’ concerns are driven by growing evidence that Chinese police in occupied Tibet [5] are carrying out a mass DNA collection program under the pretext of “crime prevention”. Over one million Tibetans have been specifically targeted under this program which amounts to ethnic profiling. Children as young as five years old have been required to give DNA samples and in one Tibetan municipality, corroborated reports show that at least 69% of the Tibetan community have had their data collected.

Kelsang Phuntsok, President of the Tibetan Association of Boston said:
“China’s mass DNA harvesting in Tibet is one of the great horrors of our time. Imagine a place where your every move is tracked on camera, you are monitored by police on the street, and spies listen in on your phone calls and read your Internet messages. This intolerable surveillance is now being taken to new extremes with over a million Tibetans, including young children, forced to submit DNA samples to their oppressors. In occupied Tibet, privacy does not exist.”

Tibet groups also advised the company to take the necessary steps to remove itself from this DNA collection by investigating its supply chains and ensuring that its products are not reaching Chinese police.

Thermo Fisher has so far not acknowledged the request to meet Marc Casper or offered a genuine response to the requests for information or key concerns. In a response to one joint letter – signed by over 120 global Tibet groups – Thermo Fisher Vice President, Sandy Pound, instead suggested that the DNA kits were being used by Chinese police forces in occupied Tibet to further ‘criminal casework’ and help track down ‘criminals’. [6]

A wider public campaign: Hands of Tibetans’ DNA, demanding that Thermo Fisher Scientific block any sales to Chinese police, has gathered over 6,000 signatures.

Tibet activists responded by publicly reaching out to Thermo Fisher in online videos and by visiting the company’s global headquarters in Massachusetts, [7] reiterating concerns about how Thermo Fisher products will be used by Chinese police, and requests for Marc Casper to accept a meeting raising the importance of listening to Tibetan voices.

Pema Doma, Executive Director, Students for a Free Tibet, said:
“Thermo Fisher Scientific has so far responded to our requests for information and a meeting by stalling, while the company’s CEO Marc Casper is nowhere to be seen. The police in occupied Tibet are not there to solve crimes, they are there to put Tibetans under constant surveillance, crackdown on dissent and interrogate political detainees. The burden of proof that Thermo Fisher Scientific’s products are not being used by the Chinese police in a campaign of biometric repression rests solely with the company. Thermo Fisher Scientific must do the right thing – the company must investigate its supply chains, ensure products are not being used for mass surveillance, and be open to listening to the voices of stakeholder communities such as those from the Tibetan community.”

The purchases of Thermo Fisher’s equipment by Chinese police in occupied Tibet became public after the Intercept revealed that equipment worth $160,000, including DNA testing kits, had been bought as recently as September 2022. Thermo Fisher was previously challenged by Human Rights Watch and US Congress for selling DNA equipment to police in the Uyghur region (CH: Xinjiang), resulting in the company stating in 2019 that it would no longer sell its DNA equipment to police in the area. The company is yet to make any such commitment regarding Tibet.

John Jones, Head of Campaign, Policy and Research at Free Tibet said:
“There are two possibilities here – Thermo Fisher Scientific is either ignorant about what is going on in occupied Tibet or it does not care. Either way, the company and its CEO Marc Casper should listen to Tibetans who are free to speak and ensure that their DNA kits do not reach a police force that has forced over a million Tibetans to submit DNA samples, and with it, what remained of their personal privacy. We have been contacting Thermo Fisher Scientific and visiting their offices because all of their staff—from the CEO to the scientists who make these products—should be asked the question: do you want your products to be used to harass and monitor an occupied people?”


For further information or comment, contact:
Tenzin Yangzom, Grassroots Director, Students for a Free Tibet | Phone: +1 617-682-6977
E: yangzom@studentsforafreetibet.org

John Jones, Head of Campaign, Policy and Research, Free Tibet | Phone: +44 7591-188-383
E: john@freetibet.org

Mandie McKeown, Executive Director, International Tibet Network | Phone: +44 7748-158-618
E: mandie@tibetnetwork.org

GEOGRAPHICAL NOTE: ‘Tibet’ refers to the three Tibetan provinces of Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang. In the 1960s, the Chinese government split Tibet into new administrative divisions: the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), and Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures within Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces. When the Chinese government references Tibet, it is referring to the TAR.