Update: Wangchuk Tseten will talk about the site and its closure at Columbia University on Thursday evening (March 24). Details here.
TibetCul.com, a news site and blog host with some 80,000 users, appears to have been taken offline for good. The closure threatens “an immeasurable loss to Tibetan netizens and [to] significantly decrease the size of the ever diminishing Tibetan cyberspace.” From the Sina Weibo accounts of, respectively, the site itself and its founder Wangchuk Tseten (translated by Global Voices Online):
On March 16 at 6pm, it was suddenly not possible to visit TibetCul’s page, the website staff and server operators just found out that higher authorities ordered to close the site down, when asking for the specific reason to the authorities, the staff on duty said he had no idea why!
After contacting the server operators, they gave me the following replies: 1. The specific reasons for the higher authorities ordering the closure are confidential 2. After pulling the plug, the server costs will still be incurred unless we withdraw from the server; 3. The same server is also hosting www.cometibet.com (Tibet Travel site) and Tibet Encyclopedia website, to reactivate these two sites it is necessary to re-apply. Please everyone tell us whether this is a reasonable legal request?!
For all Tibet related news, blogs and cultural activities, TibetCul was an invaluable resource and source of information. Their database of profiles of prominent Tibetans were a thorough and well-organised “who’s who” of Tibet today and included useful information, for example when high profile Tibetan businessman Dorje Tashi was sentenced to life in prison and there was little biographical information online otherwise, the translations site High Peaks Pure Earth translated Dorje Tashi’s profile into English.
TibetCul also hosted a great number of blogs by well-known as well as unknown Tibetans, most of the users were young student types in the urban areas in Tibet and all over the PRC. Famous Tibetan personalities who kept TibetCul blogs were the girl group Ajia, film director Pema Tseden, rock band Namchag, music group from Amdo, Yudrug, poet Adong Paldothar and of course the founder Wangchuk Tseten himself, amongst numerous others.
Occupying a unique space and platform for Tibetans online in the PRC, TibetCul has always had to find a balance between encouraging Tibetan expression whilst toeing the official line. Although materials published by individuals on their TibetCul blogs could sometimes be highly political, TibetCul seldom tolerated all out political discussions and would often delete posts quickly or suspend bloggers accounts.
While this concession may leave the site open to criticism, it allowed TibetCul to provide a platform for other issues of importance to Tibetan netizens. From another post by Pemba from last August, on Tibet’s “vibrant and empowering” blogosphere:
One major example would be the online vilification of well-known Tibetan singer Lobsang Dondrup following photos posted on blogs of him and his wife both wearing fur at their wedding ceremony in early 2009. The photos were quickly re-posted across many blogs, incurring the wrath of angry Tibetan netizens and comments criticising the couple flooded the internet forums both in Tibetan and Chinese. This must all be seen in context, in 2006, after the Dalai Lama’s injunction against the wearing of animal fur, a wave of fur burning protests took place in Amdo and Kham. Hence the netizens anger and loathing for the couple. Shortly after, Lobsang Dondrup posted an apology online through his friend’s TibetCul blog.
The site’s closure may appear to be par for the course in China, but is actually relatively unusual given the administrators’ readiness to accommodate the censors’ demands: see recent comments by social media pioneer Zheng Yun, translated for CDT by Don Weinland.