President-elect Chemi Lhamo faced online harassment targeting her Tibetan heritage shortly after the SCSU elections. ANDY TAKAGI/THE VARSITY

Toronto police are investigating whether some of the thousands of online comments directed at Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) President-elect and current Vice-President Equity Chemi Lhamo may constitute criminal threats, National Post reported Thursday.

Lhamo, who was elected SCSU President on February 9, was born a stateless Tibetan refugee in India and emigrated to Canada with her family 11 years ago.

Lhamo is also a member of Students for a Free Tibet, which advocates for Tibetan independence from China. China sees the movement for an independent Tibet as a serious threat and affront to its sovereignty.

During her SCSU presidential campaign, Lhamo was attacked over social media for her pro-Tibetan independence views. Her Instagram posts have received tens of thousands of comments, some of which she says threaten physical harm. According to Lhamo, some of the comments she received via Instagram include “wish you would die young,” “the bullet for your penalty is made in China,” and “I kill all your family.”

It will take time to determine if any criminal acts occurred, said Detective Anthony Rutherford, who is heading the police probe. There are approximately 15,000 comments in different languages, all of which need to be reviewed, added Rutherford.

According to National Post, Lhamo has been asked by the university police to develop a safety plan, including notifying them of her location on campus on an hourly basis.

The harassment began with an online petition, which reached over 11,000 signatures, calling on Lhamo to step down. Messages circulated on WeChat directing Chinese international students to act to stop her from winning the election. Questions arose as to whether the Chinese government was in any way involved in mobilizing Chinese students who oppose Tibetan independence to harass Lhamo.

“It is concerning, not so much about my safety but rather the safety of our Canadian rights,” Lhamo then wrote to The Varsity.

“This is just an example of China’s long arms, how they still think and inherently believe that they can intimidate me into not running for Presidency.”

In a statement, the Chinese consulate in Toronto denied any involvement in the mobilization of Chinese students against Lhamo, but did not condemn the harassment. “It is believed that this is an entirely spontaneous action of those Chinese students based on objective facts and patriotic enthusiasm,” said the consulate, according to CBC.

“The Chinese government firmly opposes anti-China separatist activities by ‘Tibet independence’ activists who are plotting to split Tibet from China [and] the move of any country or organization to provide support or convenience of any kind to ‘Tibet independence’ activities.”

This story is developing. More to come.

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