Police Shooting of Unarmed Tibetan Worshippers Condemned

2013-07-10
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Tashi Sonam, an ex-manager of Nyatso monastery who suffered gunshot wounds on his head, resting in a hospital in Tawu, July 7, 2013.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

A brutal attack by Chinese police on unarmed Tibetans attending a religious ceremony to mark the Dalai Lama's birthday in Sichuan province was condemned Wednesday by Tibetan groups, as the number of reported casualties rose.

About a dozen people were wounded, some seriously, after police opened fire on a crowd of about 1,000 Tibetans, mostly monks and nuns, who had gathered in the lower slopes of a sacred mountain in Tawu (in Chinese, Daofu) county on Saturday to commemorate the Dalai Lama's 78th birthday, according to the latest information provided by residents.

Some of them were beaten and pelted at with stones by police at the site of the birthday prayers near the Machen Pomra mountain.

"The indiscriminate firing by Chinese police on Tibetans holding prayer services to mark His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday is an extremely brutal and inhuman act," the Tibetan parliament-in-exile based in India's Dharamsala hill town said in a statement.

"We strongly urge the peace and truth loving governments to condemn such human rights violations committed by the Chinese government in Tibet,” the statement said.

Tawu residents told RFA's Tibetan Service that at least 11 people were confirmed injured in the incident. Initial reports cited eight casualties but many others are believed to have been wounded, they said.

“The number of Tibetans who were injured in the July 6 shooting in Tawu is increasing," one resident said, adding that security has been tightened around the area and communication links have been mostly cut.

"Now it is extremely difficult to communicate due to restriction on communication lines in the Tawu area. ”

Ribs broken

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Monk Tsewang Choephel shows the gunshot wounds he sustained in the police attack.

Among those injured in the incident was a Tibetan environmental activist, who had two of his ribs broken when police beat him for questioning their action to stop the Dalai Lama's birthday-marking ceremony, according to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD).

Kyasor Gyatso was among a group of Tibetans "who were savagely beaten" at a bridge near Machen Pomra mountain, said the TCHRD, which is based in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, lives in exile.

"Armed police engaged in brutal and indiscriminate beatings when Gyatso and others in the group began questioning the actions of the armed police. They wanted to know why the armed police were stopping them from observing religious ceremony on the mountain,” a source told TCHRD quoting local eyewitnesses.

“The brutal beatings were in response to mere questionings and resistance by Gyatso and others in the group.”

The TCHRD said armed police detained 14 Tibetans, including Kyasor Gyatso, but they were released the next day following protests from local Tibetans who had gathered at the courtyard of Tawu's Nyatso Monastery, where many of the monks who participated in the ceremony came from.

"Many of those released after detention had to be hospitalized due to severe injuries. Their whereabouts and condition remain unknown," the center said.

The Tawu resident who spoke to RFA said a layperson, Aja Tashi from Drangchung village in Tawu, was critically injured after being shot.

Call to raise issue with Beijing

The International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group, asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to raise the shooting incident with his Chinese counterpart at this week’s high-level bilateral talks in Washington.

Kerry should ask Chinese leaders to undertake "an objective investigation into the shooting of unarmed Tibetans participating in a religious ceremony to venerate the Dalai Lama, and to bring those responsible to justice," ICT said in a statement.

“Given that Chinese law provides for freedoms of assembly and religious belief, the U.S. should hold Chinese authorities to their obligations to investigate and prosecute those who have violated Tibetans’ exercise of these rights,” said Todd Stein, ICT Director of Government Relations.

“Moreover, the Chinese should allow independent observers into Tawu to investigate this disproportionate use of force against unarmed civilians.”

Kerry, along with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, will lead the U.S. delegation to the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, to be held on Wednesday and Thursday.

Reported by Lumbum Tashi for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.