Nepalese police on Wednesday dispersed a crowd of several hundred Tibetans who had gathered to celebrate the 81st birthday of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, despite assurances given the day before that the event would be allowed to proceed.
Tibetan refugee representative Kalsang Dondrub and 23 other Tibetans were briefly taken into custody by police who swarmed the Songtsen High School in the capital Kathmandu, RFA’s Tibetan Service reported from the scene.
Police also pulled down large portraits of the Dalai Lama that had been placed in positions of honor on a stage in the school’s courtyard, scattering banners, flowers, and other offerings that had been arranged at the site, RFA reported.
Speaking to a reporter, several Tibetans attending the event voiced distress at the crackdown, saying the planned event had been religious rather than political in nature.
“Nepalese authorities have frequently suppressed Tibetan refugees’ political activities in the past,” one participant said. “Today, we were trying to hold a religious celebration, and now they are stopping us from doing this, too.”
“With no country of our own, we often face crises like this,” he said.
“The police must have been very desperate not to allow us to honor the Dalai Lama, who is so well known and respected throughout the world,” another man said.
Pressure from China
One community leader named Lhalung said that by ordering the raid, authorities had gone back on their word that the celebration could be held.
“The Tibetan representative and other welfare officers sought permission from Nepalese authorities to hold the event, and permission was granted yesterday,” Lhalung said.
“But today, they changed their minds and stopped us. This could be a result of pressure from China," he said.
Tibetan refugees living in Nepal are under constant pressure to avoid asserting their national identity as their host country moves closer to its powerful northern neighbor China, analysts say.
An estimated 20,000 Tibetans now live in Nepal, though accurate numbers are hard to come by.
Many arrived in Nepal following a failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in which thousands fled south across the Himalayas.
Nepal authorities seem now to be more interested in placating Beijing than in upholding Nepal’s own laws on peaceful assembly, association, and expression, Sophie Richardson, China Director for New York-based Human Rights Watch told RFA.
“While Nepal has offered Tibetans some protections, it has also frequently invoked vague and inconsistent justifications to silence peaceful protest and discriminate against Tibetans,” Richardson said.
“Any restrictions must be based on law, and not on Chinese political sensitivities.”
Reported by Dawa Dolma and Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.