VI. Threats, Harassment, and Intimidation of Tibetans

Threats of deportation

Police have routinely threatened Tibetans with deportation to China during arrests and while holding them in detention. The authorities’ widespread use of this threat suggests it is Nepali government policy and could be considered a form of state-sponsored intimidation. Security force commanders know or should know their officers are threatening Tibetans with deportation and thus should be held accountable for the continuing threats.

Under the Convention against Torture, Nepal may not deport anyone to a country where they may face torture.86 Customary international law also prohibits refoulement (return) of refugees to places where a person would face a threat of persecution. The UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has cited China for its abuse of political dissidents.87 Those of Tibetan origin who have been protesting Chinese rule in Tibet would almost certainly be treated as dissidents or even separatists.

Nearly all Tibetans involved in protests interviewed by Human Rights Watch say they have been threatened with deportation, many on several occasions. Most people interviewed reported junior police officers telling them, “If you protest tomorrow we will send you back to China,” or “I will confiscate your Refugee Card and send you back to China.” These threats were usually made in detention and sometimes during arrest.88

Officers as senior as a DSP have similarly threatened large groups in detention. For example, on March 15, a police officer at Jawalakel Police Station said to a group, “We will deport you to China, and you know how they will kill you.”89

Around 8 p.m. on March 24, the authorities ordered the 241 Tibetans detained at Jawalakel Police Station to line up with men on one side and women on the other. A senior police officer in civilian clothes then entered the compound and said, “If you make disturbances like this, then we will take you to the border and hold you there for two to three months. I have the authority to send you back to China or hold you at the border for two or three months.”90 On April 3, a police officer told detainees held overnight: “We will check everything. Give your name and details. We have a law to surrender you back there [China].”91 Also on April 3, after being held overnight, detainees were told, “Since you are protesting continuously we are going to check who has a Refugee Card or citizenship, and people who have no identity we will hand you to the Chinese.”92 On April 15, a senior police officer from Kamal Pokhari Police Station required those held at Ghan II Police Barracks to show their ID cards, and later a Ghan II police officer threatened the same group with deportation to China if they could not produce proof of refugee status in Nepal.93

Some Tibetans have received individualized threats of deportation. For example, around 10:30 p.m. on March 25, following the arrest of 74 individuals94 at Boudha Police Station, a 26-year-old woman who said she would continue to demonstrate was put into a room alone with the DSP. The DSP said, “Why are you demonstrating? We could hand you over to the Chinese authorities.”95 Another woman perceived as a protest leader was pointed at and told at Jawalakel Police Station, “If you demonstrate tomorrow we will lathi charge you and hand you over to the Chinese.” On a separate occasion, also at Jawalakel Police Station, a police officer told her, “If you come tomorrow we will put you in a truck and send you back to Tibet. We don’t care about the media and the UN. We are going to hand all Tibetans back to Chinese, and we will raise a stick to all Tibetans.”96

Given the history of deportation of Tibetans from Nepal, the widespread and consistent nature of the threats, and the danger presented, Tibetans who spoke with Human Rights Watch take the threats very seriously.

Threats of violence

Police have used the threat of serious violence both in detention and on the streets of Kathmandu. The most commonly reported threat of violence has been beatings if protesters continue to protest. When police rearrested the group of Tibetans outside Boudha Police Station on March 25, an officer said, “As soon as there is a protest you are the ones at the front. If you are there tomorrow we will cut off your hands and legs.” Tashi Dolma reported police saying to her, “If you are not following orders then I will kill you.”97

Several Tibetans have also reported threats of violence associated with fulfilling requests by the police, such as, “If you don’t give your mobile phone we will hit you with the lathi,” or, “If you are not silent we will beat you.”98

Police surveillance and visits

A small group of Tibetans have reported that the police have placed them under regular surveillance. Perceived leaders of the protests report sighting individuals in civilian dress that they assume to be police posted outside their homes, and uniformed police making regular visits to their neighborhoods. They have also reported being followed by such people on the street. Those carrying out the surveillance change regularly, but the families of the individuals who report the surveillance say they are beginning to recognize the faces.

Several locations have also been under police surveillance. For example, Jawalakel Tibetan Camp has had several visits by plainclothes police officers. Such a visit was particularly obvious on March 20, when four police officers from Jawalakel Police Station visited the camp and were recognized by local residents. The police tried to speak with a group of Tibetans in a tea shop and made one round of the camp on foot. One police officer returned later on a motorbike to make a second round of the camp. On the same day a uniformed police officer asked at the school gate what the program inside the camp was that day. On a separate occasion, Lhundup Gyatso reported seeing individuals in civilian clothes moving about inside the camp with walkie-talkies. Tibetan children ages 11 to 13 who live in the camp have reported being asked by police where their elders are.99

Uniformed police officers have visited the Tibet Reception Center on three occasions since March 10—once on March 31 and twice on April 1. Such visits are considered unusual. The police officers asked the gatekeeper, “Any functions at TRC today? Any people went out from TRC today?” On one occasion TRC staff went to speak to the police officers and were asked, “You people are protesting in front of the Chinese Embassy. Is there any program around Swyambu?”100

Kunsang Chodrak reported that the Kopan Monastery received a visit by the police. This was particularly unusual in that the police offers actually entered the monastery.101

The nunnery at Swyambu, which is located directly next door to a police station, has received several visits by local police. Human Rights Watch observed one such visit by three police officers on March 3 at 7:40 a.m.. The visits have been associated with the short-term de facto house arrest of the nuns on some days and on other days the nuns feeling less free to leave the Swyambu area.102

Other Tibetans who joined protests have reported being followed by the police. Tenzin Lhanzom, age 15, reported being followed to a shopping mall near the Chinese Embassy by a plainclothes policeman on April 2.103

Taking of photographs

On some occasions Tibetan protesters have been photographed in detention, police officers telling them, “If I see you tomorrow protesting we will see you because we have your picture,” or, “Now we have your photo we will recognize you. Now if you go to protest you will have a difficult life.”104 While detainees were standing in line to be photographed during the re-arrest on March 25, a Nepali man came with a video camera and filmed everyone in the line, and those who attempted to turn their heads were forced to look at the camera. While this filming was being conducted, a police officer said, “Why did you come here? You motherfucker, why are you protesting here? If you protest tomorrow we will deport you back to China.”105 Tibetans have reported being scared that their photographs will be given to the Chinese or used to identify them for arrest or deportation.

Tibetan refugees in Nepal are well informed of how “separatists” are treated in China, and they have told Human Rights Watch that their fear of deportation is even greater with the risk of being labeled as such by the Chinese government.

Making lists of those to be detained

On March 17, members of the Tibetan community learned from a reliable source that a list had been drawn up of 11 Tibetans who were current or former leaders of local Tibetan organizations. Human Rights Watch was provided with the names of the 11 people on the list. When a senior Nepali lawyer asked a senior member of the Nepal Police about this list, he was told that arrest warrants had not been issued for the people on the list, but that the possibility of preventive detention could not be ruled out. Human Rights Watch was told by leading figures in the Tibetan community that another five people were later added to the list. It is believed the list was created to instill fear within the Tibetan community. This is of particular concern to Human Rights Watch, given the previous use of “blacklists” of human rights activists and political activists by the Nepali authorities in December 2004 and February 2005.106

86 Convention against Torture, art. 3.

87 Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture to the Commission on Human Rights, 2006, E/CN.4/2006/6/Add.6,

88 Human Rights Watch interviews with Penpa Dolma, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008; Tenzin Lhanzom, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008; Tenzin Wangpo, Kathmandu, March 25 and April 6, 2008; Tashi Lhakyi, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008; Nima Tsering, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008; Lhumo Tashi, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008; and Lhundup Gyatso, Kathmandu, March 25, 2008.

89 Human Rights Watch interview with Tenzin Jinpa, Kathmandu, March 24, 2008.

90 Human Rights Watch interview with Tenzin Palzom, Kathmandu, March 26, 2008.

91 Human Rights Watch interview with Tenzin Wangpo, Kathmandu, March 25 and April 6, 2008.

92 Human Rights Watch interview with Lhumo Tashi, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008.

93 Human Rights Watch interview with Tenzin Wangpo, Kathmandu, April 15, 2008 and Tashi Tsering, Kathmandu, April 15, 2008.

94 Sixty-six of those arrested at this time were re-arrests having been detained at Ghan II Police Barracks until around 9.45 p.m. the same evening. Eight others joined them on the bus to return home from Ghan II Police Barracks and were also arrested.

95 Human Rights Watch interview with Tenzin Palzom, Kathmandu, March 26, 2008.

96 Human Rights Watch interview with Nima Sangmo, Kathmandu, March 25 and April 6, 2008.

97 Human Rights Watch interview with Tashi Dolma, Kathmandu, March 24 and April 6, 2008.

98 Human Rights Watch interview with Nima Tsering, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008, Lobsang Jinpa, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008, and Dawa Phuntsok, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008.

99 Human Rights Watch interviews with Tashi Tsering, Kathmandu, March 20, 2008, Lhundup Gyatso on, March 25, 2008, and Lobsang Tsering, Kathmandu, March 25, 2008.

100 Human Rights Watch interview with Lobsang Jinpa, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008.

101 Human Rights Watch interview with Kunsang Chodrak, Kathmandu, March 25, 2008.

102 Human Rights Watch interview with a senior nun from Swyambu, Kathmandu, March 29, 2008.

103 Human Rights Watch interview with Tenzin Lhanzom, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008.

104 Human Rights Watch interview with Tenzin Palzom, Kathmandu, March 26, 2008.

105 Human Rights Watch interview with Dukar Gyal, Kathmandu, April 6, 2008.

106 In December 2005, the names of five Nepali human rights activists were circulated by the then Royal Nepal Army in what local and international human rights organizations perceived as an attempt to instill fear in the human rights community. See Human Rights Watch press release, “Nepal: Human Rights Defenders Under Threat: Enhanced International Protection Urgently Needed,” In February 2005, a list of 21 human rights defenders was circulated immediately following the King’s takeover for the apparent purpose of arrests, restrictions on freedom of movement, and surveillance. See Human Rights Watch press release, “Nepal: Danger of ‘Disappearances’ Escalates: International Monitoring, Pressure Vital to Protect Rights,”