Respect Tibetans’ Right to Peaceful Expression, Assembly
April 21, 2008
Nepal has just held relatively peaceful, democratic elections. But the government cannot be selective about who in Nepal is entitled to such basic rights – Tibetans there are entitled to peaceful expression and assembly too.
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) - As protests over China’s abuses of Tibetans intensify in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, police continue to arbitrarily arrest, detain, and mistreat record numbers of Tibetans in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, Human Rights Watch today.

“Nepal has just held relatively peaceful, democratic elections,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “But the government cannot be selective about who in Nepal is entitled to such basic rights – Tibetans there are entitled to peaceful expression and assembly too.”

Demonstrations began in Kathmandu on March 10, the date on which Tibetans worldwide commemorate the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Over the past five weeks, police arrested more than 2,500 Tibetans for protesting peacefully, or simply because they appeared to be Tibetan.

The protests were suspended between April 3 and 14, while Nepal held Constituent Assembly elections. But in the days immediately following the elections, police detained more than 850 Tibetans.

On April 15, the first day that the protests resumed, 125 Tibetans were detained, including 101 at Ghan II Police Barracks. A senior police officer from Kamal Pokari Police Station requested that those held at Ghan II Police Barracks show their ID cards and later a Ghan II police officer threatened the same group with deportation to China if they could not produce proof of refugee status in Nepal.

The next day, 112 Tibetans were detained at four different locations with 58 Tibetans taken to Ghan II Police Barracks, 14 to Kamal Pokari, 25 to Singh Durbar, and 15 to Gau Sala Police Station. All were held overnight with the exception of 13 women held at Gausala Police Station who were released. At about 11 p.m., the 25 held at Singh Durbar Police Station were given arrest warrants for public nuisance offences and released around 1 p.m. on April 17. Those held at Ghan II Police Barracks were questioned by three plain clothes officials and released on April 17, around 1:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, on April 17, 504 Tibetans were detained during protests in front of the Chinese Embassy in Balawatar. They were held at four locations: 478 at Ghan II Police Barracks, Maharajgunj; 10 at Kamal Pokari Police Station; five at Gausala Police Station; and 11 at Narayan Gopal Chowk. They were released around 11 p.m. the same evening.

On April 18, 117 people were arrested, 115 protestors and two Tibetan journalists covering the protest. Tenzin Choephel and Thupten Shastri were specifically identified by Nepali Police for arrest from a group of five Tibetan journalists at the same location. They were initially held at Kamal Pokhari Police Station for 40 minutes and later moved to Lanchaur Metropolitan Police Station where they were released after around 90 minutes. When Cheophel and Shastri enquired about the reason for their arrest, a senior officer replied, “I don’t know the reason, but it might be because if there are many Tibetan journalists, then there are more Tibetan protesters coming.”

“This is not only another example of an illegal arrest and detention,” said Richardson. “Given the targeted nature of this attack on the Tibetan media it must be viewed as an intimidation tactic aimed at silencing media who are reporting on the illegal arrests and detentions of hundreds of Tibetans in Nepal.”

Human Rights Watch has documented ill-treatment of many Tibetans in detention, including beatings, repeatedly being denied access to medical care, or being given inadequate medical care. Human Rights Watch has observed Nepali police using unnecessary and excessive force during arrests and sexually assaulting Tibetan women.

Nepal, which after India is home to the second-largest community of exiled Tibetans, has long provided some security to Tibetans seeking refuge from religious, political, and cultural persecution in Tibet, but in recent years has come under increasing Chinese pressure to halt what are perceived to be “anti-China” activities. Successive Nepali governments have silenced such dissent in blatant contravention of their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the rights of expression, assembly, and association to all people in a country regardless of their status. Although Nepal is not a party to the Refugee Convention, customary international law requires that individuals not be forced to return to countries where they face a well-founded fear of persecution.

“One of the best ways the new Nepali government can demonstrate its commitments to rights is by releasing these Tibetans and allowing them to peacefully express their views,” said Richardson.

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