(New York) - The government of Nepal, under pressure from China, has arbitrarily arrested hundreds of Tibetans and restricted their right to demonstrate against the March 2008 crackdown in Tibet, Human Rights Watch said in a new report today. Human Rights Watch called on Nepal to respect Tibetans’ rights to free expression and assembly, and for China to end its pressure campaign against Nepal.
“Nepal’s government is turning the screws on peaceful Tibetan protesters at the behest of China,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “How can a government that came to power on a wave of public protests justify crushing peaceful protests by Tibetans?”
The 60-page report, “Appeasing China: Restricting the Rights of Tibetans in Nepal,” documents numerous violations of human rights by the Nepali authorities, particularly the police, against Tibetans involved in peaceful demonstrations in Kathmandu, including:
- unnecessary and excessive use of force;
- arbitrary arrest;
- sexual assault of women during arrest;
- arbitrary and preventive detention;
- beatings in detention;
- unlawful threats to deport Tibetans to China;
- restrictions on freedom of movement in the Kathmandu Valley;
- harassment of Tibetan and foreign journalists; and
- harassment of Nepali, Tibetan, and foreign human rights defenders.
In preparing the report, Human Rights Watch directly observed protests and arrests, conditions in detention, and treatment in hospitals. Human Rights Watch carried out regular observation visits to Tibetan areas of Kathmandu, interviewed more than 90 Tibetan protesters and conducted interviews with non-Tibetan protest eyewitnesses, Tibetan community and religious leaders, Nepali medical personnel and police officers, and United Nations personnel in Nepal.
Nepal, which borders the Tibetan region of China and is home to approximately 20,000 Tibetan exiles, refugees and asylum seekers, has seen numerous protests since March 10, “Tibetan National Uprising Day,” the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan rebellion against China’s rule in Tibet. Protests in Kathmandu intensified in reaction to the Chinese government’s violent suppression of protests in Tibet and neighboring provinces in China.
Nepali authorities have made at least 8,350 arrests of Tibetans between March 10 and July 18 (many people have been arrested more than once). While the frequency of protests has diminished since May, protests have continued to take place regularly. Few of those arrested have been provided with a reason for their detention, and virtually all have been released without charge.
Human Rights Watch said that Nepal’s police have used unnecessary or excessive force to carry out arrests, at times with the apparent intent to disperse crowds of peaceful protesters. Police have beaten protesters with lathis (canes) on the head and body, and kicked and punched them, and sexually assaulted Tibetan women during arrest. Police, especially at Boudha police station in Kathmandu, have severely beaten detainees. Many detainees, including those who suffered injuries while being arrested, have been provided limited or no medical care. Threats of violence, sexual intimidation and deportation to China by the police also appear to have been used to deter future demonstrations.
“Kathmandu has provided a home for Tibetan exiles for decades,” said Adams. “That is now under threat as Nepali authorities cave into pressure from the Chinese government.”
China has played an important, if at times opaque, role in the Nepali government’s crackdown on Tibetan demonstrations. China’s ambassador to Nepal, Zheng Xianglin, has publicly exerted China’s influence on the Nepali government through strong and frequent statements, calling for the arrest of protesters and urging the government to take strong action. For example, on May 12, Xianglin, said, “We want the Nepali establishment to take severe penal actions against those involved in anti-China activities in Nepal.”
The unusual number of statements from Nepali leaders reiterating the ban on “anti-China” activities suggests increasing pressure from Beijing.
“China has long claimed that the bedrock of its foreign policy is ‘non-interference’ in the internal affairs of other countries. Yet it has directly called for the Nepali authorities to crack down on peaceful protesters,” said Adams. “Beijing’s attempts to export its persecution of Tibetans across the Nepal-China border should stop immediately and be strongly resisted by the government of Nepal.”
Nearly all Tibetan protesters interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported being threatened by Nepali authorities with deportation to China. This threat is being used during arrest and against those in detention with the apparent aim of instilling fear within the Tibetan community or to discourage future protests. The authorities’ widespread use of this threat suggests Nepali government policy.
“The threat of detention and deportation to China is being used by the government of Nepal to silence peaceful protest,” said Adams.
Human Rights Watch called on the government of Nepal to respect the fundamental rights of Tibetans to engage in peaceful assembly and expression, and to end the arbitrary arrest, harassment, and mistreatment of those who do so. Human Rights Watch also called on the Chinese government to cease its public and private pressure on the Nepali government to violate the rights of Tibetans.
Tibetan protesters in their own words:
“I was peacefully protesting when I was hit on the head by police and fell to the ground. I was then hit with lathis [canes] on the feet and legs by three policemen before they ran off, and I was helped home by a passerby. Both of my feet are fractured. The doctor told me my left foot will never be the same again.”
– 25-year-old Tibetan, Kathmandu, March 19, 2008
“We are protesting because we want to tell the truth about our country and we want justice from the UN and human rights. We want to show other countries the real situation in Tibet. This is our aim.”
– Nun from Swyambu, Kathmandu, March 29, 2008
“The police took my friend, so I tried to hold onto him. Then the police tried to hit me with a lathi, so I put my arms up and now I have a damaged arm. Then I fell to the ground and the police beat me while I was on the ground, and now I have this large bruise on my back. My friend picked me up because I couldn’t walk, and then the police put me into the van.”
– Protester, age 25