A U.S. citizen of Tibetan origin deported from Nepal last week after being questioned by immigration officers was singled out for harsh treatment because his name matched that on a blacklist provided to Nepalese authorities by China, sources say.
Penpa Tsering, who shares the same name as the former Speaker of the India-based Tibetan Parliament in Exile, had just arrived at Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport after a 17-hour flight from New York when he was pulled aside for interrogation, Tsering told RFA’s Tibetan Service in an interview on July 3.
“The immigration officials ignored my repeated claims of not being the person they were looking for, and instead held me for almost six hours at the airport only to have me deported,” Tsering said.
“It was a perplexing and frightening ordeal for me,” he added.
While being questioned, Tsering managed to send a text message to family members who were waiting for him outside the airport, telling them he was being held in a case of mistaken identity, Tsering told RFA.
“And when things got further delayed, I tried to text them again, but the immigration officials snatched my cell phone away. They treated me completely like a criminal,” he said.
“They asked me to remove my hat and eyeglasses to verify if I was the person they were looking for, but even after realizing it wasn’t me, they still deported me,” Tsering said, adding that the officers holding him conducted an online search of his Facebook accounts, where they found images of the Tibetan national flag, which is banned in China.
“Also, I served in the Tibetan Government in Exile for more than 20 years,” he said.
Influence from China
Tsering said that he blames influence from the Chinese government for his treatment at the airport.
“After going through all this, I felt I must not let it slide,” said Tsering, who was sent back to the U.S. that same day via Qatar Airways and then spent four days in New York before going to Dharamsala, India, to attend a long-life ceremony for exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
“Therefore, I wrote an email to the U.S. Embassy in Nepal informing them of this incident and asking them to investigate the matter further, though I haven’t received any response yet."
"I am also planning to write to my local representatives and to Congress when I return to the U.S.,” he said.
“I can’t stop thinking about this distressing incident, but even more I can’t imagine what it must be like for Tibetans living in Tibet under a Chinese administration,” he said.
Authorities deporting Tsering had acted at the request of the Chinese Embassy in Nepal, which had put the name Penpa Tsering on a list of persons to be refused entry to the country, the Kathmandu-based Himalayan Times news agency said on June 24, citing unnamed Nepalese officials.
But even after realizing their mistake, and after consulting with higher officials including Nepal’s Home Minister, “we simply chose to be on the safe side by deporting [Tsering] to the US,” one official was quoted as saying.
Attempts by RFA to reach the U.S. Embassy in Nepal for comment were unsuccessful.
In an emailed statement to the Himalayan Times, however, embassy spokesperson Andie De Arment voiced concern over Tsering's treatment at the hands of Nepalese officials.
"We are seeking clarification from the Nepalese government about the facts of this specific instance and, more generally, on whether US citizens seeking to enter Nepal will be subject to clearance from other foreign governments," De Arment said, quoted by the Himalayan Times on June 27.
Reached by RFA for comment on Friday, a State Department spokesperson described the United States as "troubled" that Nepal had deported a U.S. citizen.
"We have raised our concerns with the Nepal government about this specific case and are seeking clarification from the Nepal government about the facts of this specific instance," the State Department said.
Nepal shares a long border with Tibet and is home to around 20,000 exiles who began arriving in 1959 when a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule forced Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama into exile in Dharamsala in India’s Himalayan foothills.
Nepal cites the One-China Policy and its strong ties with Beijing in cracking down on Tibetan community activities in the country, such as elections among the refugee community and birthday celebrations for the Dalai Lama.
Nepal banned birthday celebrations again this year for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who turns 84 on July 6, the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office in Kathmandu announced on Friday.
“Tacit verbal approval” had at first been given by authorities for a celebration at a local Tibetan monastery, Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office representative Tsultrim Gyatso said.
“But on July 3, the Chief District Officer and the Nepali police issued an order banning this year’s celebration."
“Now they have to dismantle the tents and pack everything up,” Gyatso said.
Reported by Kalden Lodoe and Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi and Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.