(New York) - The government of Nepal should cease arbitrary arrests and detentions, harassment, and the use of excessive force to silence Tibetan protesters, activists and journalists, Human Rights Watch said today. Nepal’s government, which came to power after protests against the rule of King Gyanendra, should reaffirm its commitment to freedom of assembly, association, and expression.
Nepal, which borders Tibet and is home to large numbers of Tibetan exiles and asylum seekers, has seen protests since March 10, “Tibetan National Uprising Day,” the anniversary of the Tibetan rebellion against Beijing’s rule in Tibet in 1959. Protests in Kathmandu have mounted in reaction to the violent suppression of protests in Tibet and neighboring provinces in China by the Chinese government.
“The police are violently dispersing peaceful Tibetan protestors in Nepal’s capital and arbitrarily detaining increasing numbers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “How can a government that came to power on a wave of public protests against an authoritarian regime justify crushing peaceful protests by Tibetans?”
When questioned about the reason for arrests of protesters, a district superintendent of police informed Human Rights Watch that it is government policy that there cannot be protests against China in Nepal.
Human Rights Watch has witnessed the excessive use of force by the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force against peaceful Tibetan protesters on March 10, 14, 15, 17, 18 and 19. Nepal Police and Armed Police have charged crowds with lathis (heavy sticks) and used tear gas as well as hitting, kicking and dragging to disperse protesters and to make arrests. Several protesters have been injured as a result, including head injuries from beatings with lathis.
Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned about ill-treatment of Tibetan detainees at Boudha Police Station. On March 10, the 14 individuals detained were kicked, punched, slapped and verbally abused for approximately 15-20 minutes. Their names were registered and they were threatened that they would be deported to China, where Human Rights Watch believes they could expect to be imprisoned and possibly tortured.
On the evening of March 14, police beat three detainees at Boudha Police Station continuously for approximately one hour. Police hit them with such force that the lathis used to assault them snapped. Human Rights Watch observed the three were visibly injured as they left the police station and were taken to hospital by friends. During attempted arrests at the same demonstration, one man was beaten on the head with a lathi, forcing him to fall to the ground where he was then beaten so hard by three police officers that he now has serious fractures in the bones of both feet. Protesters reported that the police were shouting “we have to hit them” as they chased the protesters.
Human Rights Watch urged the Nepali government to ensure that members of the police and armed police do not use force against peaceful protestors.
“Nepal’s security forces must understand that they can be held criminally accountable for physical violence against Tibetans,” said Adams.
Human Rights Watch said that while in many cases the Nepali authorities have allowed peaceful protests, at other times it has arbitrarily arrested protesters. For example, on March 10, more than 150 Tibetans were detained after a peaceful protest in Boudha for around seven hours at three separate police stations. On March 14, three individuals were detained and released after approximately two hours at Boudha Police Station after another peaceful protest. On March 15, 12 protesters were detained for approximately three hours at Jawalakel Police Station after a demonstration at the United Nations complex. On March 17, 49 demonstrators, including two with injuries, were detained at the Mahendra Police Club for approximately eight hours after demonstrating at the UN complex. On March 18, 58 people were arrested again at the UN complex; 54 were taken to the Mahendra Police Club, where they were held for approximately seven hours, and four were held at Jawalakel Police Station. On March 19, 21 people were arrested at a demonstration at the UN complex at around noon, detained at Jawalakel Police Station and released six hours later.
A particular case of concern is the March 18 arrests by police of Tenzin Jamphel (Thupten) and Gyalbo Lama Tamang, a Tibetan and a Nepali monk respectively, at 9:30 a.m. from Sarswati monastery. They were questioned at the Swayambu Ward Police for one hour, then taken to the Naxal police headquarters, where they were questioned for 30 minutes. Finally, they were taken to the office of the Kathmandu chief district officer and held there until 2 p.m. Both were forced to sign a document saying they would not participate in further protests. The Tibetan monk was threatened to be sent back to China if he participated in further protests and told that he had been added to the list of “wanted people.”
Human Rights Watch is concerned about reports that the Kathmandu chief district officer has prepared a list of 11 Tibetan leaders to be arrested simply for being political opponents of the Chinese government.
“The threat of detention and deportation to China is being used to silence peaceful dissent in Nepal,” said Adams. “Arbitrary arrests of Tibetans should cease immediately.”
Attacks on Journalists
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about attacks on journalists attempting to report on the Tibetan protests and developments along Nepal’s border with China. On March 16, a Nepali press photographer working with a foreign journalist was stopped 200 meters inside the Nepal border by 10 Chinese police who took him to an official building, and, in the presence of Nepali police, searched his bag and erased his photos. On March 17, a foreign journalist who was attempting to photograph arrests of protesters was punched in the face by a Nepali police officer. Journalists are also reporting a significant increase in the number of Chinese security officials along the border and plainclothes Chinese officials operating on the Nepali side of the border.
Asylum in Nepal
As many Tibetans seek to escape the crackdown in Tibet and make their way to safety in Nepal, Human Rights Watch reminded Nepal of its international obligations to allow those at risk of persecution to seek asylum in Nepal.
Many Tibetans who arrived in Nepal before December 31, 1989 are officially regarded as refugees. But the Nepali government has refused to register Tibetan asylum seekers arriving after that time as refugees. As a result, new arrivals are at risk of summary repatriation and encounter great difficulty integrating into Nepali society and accessing education, health care, and employment. It is also impossible for them to leave the country unless granted an exit permit. In January 2005, under pressure from the Chinese government, the Nepali government closed the Office of the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In 2007, it took the unprecedented step of deregistering the Bhota Welfare Office, a local organization assisting Tibetans living in Nepal.
“Now is the time for the Nepali government to protect Tibetans – not to do the bidding of Beijing,” said Adams.