(New York) - The Chinese government should exercise restraint in resolving a stand-off between hundreds of security forces and local residents around the Kirti Tibetan monastery in Aba County in southwestern Sichuan province, Human Rights Watch said today.
In recent days, security forces have reportedly used excessive force, including beating local residents and deploying attack dogs against those who have gathered to block access to the monastery. Those reported abuses are part of an escalation in tensions in the area following the self-immolation of one of the monastery's monks on March 16, 2011, on the third anniversary of anti-government protests across the Tibetan plateau.
"The Chinese government has an obligation to protect its citizens' rights of public expression, assembly, and religious belief as guaranteed under China's laws and constitution," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "The use of violence against peaceful, unarmed demonstrators including those surrounding the Kirti monastery would be both unjustifiable and completely unlawful."
Tensions around the Kirti monastery reportedly spiked on April 12, 2011, when local residents, concerned that security forces were preparing to forcibly remove monks between the ages of 18-40 for official "reeducation," surrounded the monastery to protect its approximately 2,500 monks. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous incidents across the Tibetan plateau since March 2008, in which Chinese security forces have subjected peaceful protesters and those suspected of subversive activity, including Tibetan monks, to brutality and ill-treatment during arrests.
Human Rights Watch's concern for the safety of the local residents around the Kirti monastery has been heightened by the fact that Chinese security forces are increasingly disregarding the rule of law as part of a campaign involving the arrests and disappearances of dozens of the country's most prominent lawyers, human rights defenders, and internet activists in recent months.
Human Rights Watch urged the Chinese government to exercise restraint in handling protests, and to ensure that resolution of the Kirti monastery stand-off is carried out in accordance with due process and international law.
"It is vital that Chinese security forces respect the safety of all concerned, use the minimum force needed to keep public order, and fully respect both the monks and bystanders' right to freely practice religion, assemble, and peacefully carry out protests," said Richardson.