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September 1999 Vol. 11, No. 5 (C)












This report profiles five Tibetans living in exile in Dharamsala, India. All are in their late twenties or thirties, and all are originally from the areas known to Tibetan nationalists as Amdo and Kham. Today almost all of this territory lies in what Tibetans call "eastern Tibet" and Chinese call the Tibetan regions of Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan provinces. Their stories show a common pattern: all had unusual access to education; all became involved in political activities through discussions at state schools or academies; all were arrested and detained by Chinese security forces for possession or circulation of published materials about the Dalai Lama or Tibetan independence; and some were tortured. All were under such intensive surveillance before and after their detention that staying in China became unbearable.

A two-person team from Human Rights Watch, one of them a fluent Tibetan speaker, interviewed four of the five in 1998 as part of a larger project on human rights in Tibet. The fifth was interviewed in 1999 with the help of colleagues. The men's stories are similar to many others we heard in Dharamsala, and while we do not claim that five cases are illustrative of a broader pattern of repression, their accounts suggest that peaceful political activity in Tibetan areas outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region (T.A.R.) and its capital, Lhasa, is no more acceptable to authorities than it is in the T.A.R. It also may be no less widespread, but this is difficult to assess, as access to some parts of these areas by journalists and independent observers is restricted. There are relatively few Tibetans from "eastern Tibet" in Dharamsala, but this may be a factor of geography; most Tibetans enter India through Nepal on the southwestern border of the T.A.R., and those from Sichuan or Gansu provinces have a much longer way to go.1

The T.A.R. and the Tibetan areas outside it have different political histories. The latter were mostly under direct control of China's Manchu emperors by the end of the eighteenth century. By contrast, what is now known as the T.A.R. continued to be governed by incarnations of the Dalai Lama, with some Manchu oversight, until 1950.

When the Republic of China (ROC) toppled the Manchu Qing dynasty in 1911, it claimed all areas that had been under Qing jurisdiction, but the Dalai Lama continued to lead the government of Tibet. Tibetan enclaves to the east, however, fell to a succession of warlords, until 1949, when the People's Republic of China (PRC) was established. In October 1950, PRC troops crossed into the areas under the Dalai Lama's jurisdiction and compelled his government to begin negotiations which culminated in the May 1951 Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet-and formal incorporation of Tibet into the PRC.

During the 1950s, the Chinese government divided "eastern Tibet" into autonomous prefectures and counties.2 It was here, in the early 1950s, that the Tibetan rebellion began, eventually forcing the Dalai Lama to flee to India in 1959 and establish his "government-in-exile."3

These Tibetan areas, home to more than half the ethnic Tibetans under Chinese rule and almost equal in size to the T.A.R., generally receive little attention from the international community. An exception was the furor createdin May, June, and July 1999 by a World Bank project in Qinghai that would involve the transfer of some 58,000 farmers, most of them of non-Tibetan ethnicity, into the Haixi Mongol-Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture where Tibetans had already become a minority. The extraordinary publicity generated by the project and its opponents helped raise the profile of "eastern Tibet," but there is still little sustained attention to the political dynamics there, let alone the human rights violations that take place. (One of the profiles in this report mentions intense fighting that broke out in late 1997 and 1998 over land that both Gansu and Qinghai provinces claimed as theirs. The fighting went utterly unnoticed in the international press.)

From the 1950s onward, Chinese officials have been as intolerant of dissent and Tibetan nationalist sympathies in the eastern areas as they have been in the T.A.R. The profiles here show that the basic freedoms of expression, association, and assembly are denied. Tibetans involved in political activities face arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, and trials that ignore all standards of openness and fairness. The state routinely violates freedom of religion, imposing curbs on the allowable number of monks and nuns in Tibetan Buddhist institutions, requiring "patriotic education" or political indoctrination of monks and nuns, and expelling those who refuse to denounce the Dalai Lama or accept other elements of official teaching from the monasteries and nunneries. Torture of detainees after arrest is common, and conditions in both detention centers and prisons are said to be poor, in terms of food, medical treatment, sanitation, and working conditions. The profiles also document discriminatory educational practices.

Some of the refugees we interviewed had been open advocates of Tibetan independence. Chinese authorities consider such advocacy tantamount to subversion. Human Rights Watch takes no stand on Tibet's political status, but we maintain that international human rights law protects the right of Tibetans to peacefully express pro-independence views in public. The types of activity described in this report-leafleting, putting up posters, flying the Tibetan flag, distributing books and tapes containing the writings and speeches of the Dalai Lama, teaching other Tibetans about Tibetan history and culture outside the aegis of Chinese institutions, shouting slogans or waving banners-are all protected under the right of free expression. None have taken place in the context of insurrection or threat of insurrection, and all are themselves peaceful acts. While the messages these expressions convey are repugnant to the Chinese government, none have taken place in a context that could genuinely be said to threaten the national security of China in the sense that the term is understood in international law, that is, a threat of force to the very existence or territorial integrity of the state. A landmark conference of international experts on free speech and national security in Johannesburg in 1995 concluded specifically that criticizing or insulting the state and its symbols, advocating nonviolent change of government or government policies, and communicating human rights information are all protected speech.4

Human Rights Watch urges Beijing-based diplomats, foreign correspondents, and donor organizations to make periodic visits to the Tibetan autonomous prefectures in western China as a way of indicating concern and opening up a troubled region to greater international scrutiny.

1 We are using the term "eastern Tibet" here as a geographical description or as a phrase used by Tibetans. Human Rights Watch takes no stance on the political status of either the T.A.R. or the Tibetan autonomous regions to the east. 2 Those areas include in Qinghai province, the Guolyo Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the Haixi Mongol-Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Sichuan and Gansu each have two such regions, the Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture and the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the former, and the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and the Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County in the latter. Finally, Yunnan has the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and the Muli Tibetan Autonomous County. See Asia Watch (now the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch), Human Rights in Tibet, February 1988, p.11. 3 We are using the term "government-in-exile" to describe the structure established in Dharamsala. We are not implying any recognition of its legitimacy or authority. 4 The principles list specific types of expression which should be protected, including criticizing the state and its symbols, advocating nonviolent change of government or government policies, and communicating human rights information. They state that any disclosure of information should not be punished unless demonstrable harm was caused by its disclosure. Principle 7, Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, October 1, 1995. The principles were drafted by an international team of human rights experts at a conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1995 convened by the London-based NGO, Article 19. The full text is available in The New World Order and Human Rights in the Post-Cold War Era: National Security vs. Human Security, papers from the International Conference on National Security Law in the Asia Pacific, November 1995 (Korea Human Rights Network, 1996).

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