(New York, March 24, 2008) – The Olympic torch, which was lit today in Olympia, Greece, should not go through Tibet unless the Chinese government agrees to an independent investigation into the recent unrest in Tibetan areas, Human Rights Watch said today.
Since March 10, unprecedented demonstrations have taken place in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, at least three Chinese provinces, and Beijing. Chinese security forces have responded by dispersing the protests, in some cases violently. The Chinese government claims that 18 civilians and one policeman were killed, and a total of 623 people injured during the protests in Lhasa on March 12. Tibetan exile groups have reported that at least 80 people died during the protests. The Chinese government has now admitted opening fire on demonstrators in Sichuan and shooting four people. Foreign journalists were expelled from these areas shortly after the demonstrations began, and lines of communication of have been cut or heavily restricted.
“Either Tibet is open or it’s not. If it is, let independent monitors and the media go there. If it’s not, the torch shouldn’t go there either,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “The Olympic torch should not be turned into a smokescreen to cover up human rights abuses.”
With a large but unknown number of Tibetans detained in Tibet and adjoining provinces in the aftermath of public protests, Human Rights Watch said Beijing Olympic officials’ resolve to run the Olympic torch through the region could exacerbate tensions, invite new protests, and provoke further repression.
Human Rights Watch has called for the Chinese government to:
- lift its lock-down of all Tibetan areas, including allowing full media access;
- account for the missing and dead from this month’s protests;
- publish the names of all individuals detained and their places of detention; and
- give immediate access to independent monitors who can investigate whether detainees are being tortured or mistreated.
Human Rights Watch said governments, the International Olympic Committee and Olympic sponsors of the torch relay should press China to reopen the region and allow an independent investigation, ideally headed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, into recent events in Tibet.
“The IOC and the sponsors of the torch relay – Coca-Cola, Samsung and Lenovo – should not associate themselves with a highly repressive situation where abuses are very likely, in violation both of the Olympic Charter and of the basic principles of corporate social responsibility,” said Richardson. “Acting responsibly is good publicity. Being morally blind is not.”