In a rare move, Chinese border police have forcibly sent back a group of Tibetan pilgrims seeking to re-enter Tibet from Nepal after confiscating their residency permits and detaining them for a week, according to Tibetan and Nepalese sources.
One analyst called the move “puzzling” and “a new development” in China’s handling of Tibetans wanting to return from Nepal to their homes.
There are about 20,000 Tibetan refugees in Nepal, and Beijing is becoming more aggressive in urging Kathmandu to restrict their activities and to take action against other refugees fleeing alleged rights abuses and other actions by the Chinese authorities.
The group of pilgrims which was sent back to Nepal came originally from Tibet’s Nagchu prefecture and comprised five men and four women in their 20s and 40s, a Tibetan living in Kathmandu named Tendar said.
“They were detained on May 26 at the border post [at Dam],” he said.
“All nine were severely beaten for two days by the Chinese border police and were then handed over to the Nepalese immigration authorities. One Chinese official from the border post came with the group all the way to Kathmandu,” he added.
Demands for money
Lingtsa Tseten Dorje, a Tibetan protest marcher detained in Nepal, said he saw the group when they were brought in to the immigration facility in which he was being held.
“In the afternoon of June 4, nine Tibetans arrived in the facility,” he said. “They had been caught by the Chinese border police on the night of May 26 and were detained at the border post.”
“After their residency permits from Tibet were confiscated, all nine were handed over to Nepalese authorities along with all their belongings.”
Two officials from the Chinese embassy in Nepal came to the immigration office to question the group, but the Tibetans refused to speak to them, he said.
Nepalese officials are now demanding large sums of money to secure the group’s release, Dorje said—asking first for 9,000 Nepali rupees (U.S. $102) , then 10,000, and finally 100,000 rupees from each.
“If they cannot pay, the authorities are threatening the Tibetans with jail time,” he said.
Pilgrimage in India
Sambhu Lama, an official with the Nepal-based HURON human rights group, said the group had first arrived in Kathmandu in mid-December, apparently intending to stay.
“They lived in the Tibetan Reception Center and were registered,” he said.
They were identified as Tenzin Chonzom, 40, Quma (Tenzin Sangmo), 44, Sonam Lhandon, 20, Luse, 40—all women—and Tamding, 23, Tenzin Higual, 26, Du Wang, 20, Lu Sang, 25, and Dam Cheng, 20—all men.
Before they were interviewed for asylum, though, the group decided to attend the Kalachakra teachings given in India in January by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and then return to Tibet, Sambhu Lama said.
“They went to the Kalachakra, went on pilgrimage around India, and then stayed in India for a few months because of rumors about re-education camps being set up in Tibet for pilgrims who had attended the Kalalchakra.”
“They only decided to head back to Tibet once they heard that these pilgrims were released and the situation was better in their [native] region.”
Stopped at the border by Chinese police because they did not have the “proper pass” to cross back into Tibet, the group was then held for nine days before being handed over to Nepalese authorities, he said.
The group now faces fines for “illegal entry” into Nepal and “penalty fines,” Sambhu Lama said, adding that when these fines are paid, they will be sent to the Indian border, accompanied by a Nepalese immigration official.
Tibetan refugees often use Nepal as a transit point to live in India.
“The detainees, however, do not have any money to bear the cost of their release, so we have contacted Tibetan organizations in Kathmandu for their help,” he said.'
'A new development'
Columbia University Tibet scholar Robbie Barnett cited recent but unconfirmed reports of three similar cases, saying the actions are “a new development” in China’s handling of Tibetans crossing the border from Nepal.
“It’s quite common for internationally prominent Chinese dissidents to be refused re-entry into mainland China, but the people involved in these cases were not in that category, were Chinese citizens, and had traveled legally to Nepal as far as is known.”
“It’s very puzzling,” he said.
Mikel Dunham, a writer and lecturer who travels frequently to Nepal, said that Nepal’s growing security ties with China and domestic political uncertainties have left Tibetans wishing to return to Tibet “extremely vulnerable.”
“As long as Nepal remains stuck in the growing pains and false starts of its newly created republic, the humane treatment of Tibetans seeking to re-enter Tibet via Nepal will remain an extremely low priority for Nepal’s government,” he said.
“In short, we can expect the Chinese to call the shots along the border while the politicians in Kathmandu persist in their internecine jockeying for personal power.”
Reported by Thupten Sangyal and Lumbum for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.