Chinese security forces sprayed gunfire into crowds to suppress protests in the Tibetan capital Lhasa in March 2008, killing a still unknown number of protesters, a secret government report has acknowledged for the first time.
The document, recently obtained by the India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), contradicts Chinese official statements so far that lethal force was not used against Tibetans during the protests.
Details of the report, prepared on March 21, 2008 by the medical department of the Lhasa Public Security Bureau (PSB), provide “irrefutable evidence that Chinese security forces used disproportionate force including live ammunition and machine guns to kill Tibetans during the March 2008 protests in the Tibetan capital Lhasa,” TCHRD said in a report released this week.
And though the Chinese-language document lists only 15 who died from gunshot wounds, of whom only 11 were confirmed as Tibetan, “at least 100” Tibetans may have been killed when Chinese police fired on crowds, TCHRD said, citing autopsy details contained in the report along with witness accounts and other sources.
“We believe that the document we obtained is representative of the overall violence police engaged in when dealing with the Tibetan protesters,” TCHRD director Tsering Tsomo told RFA, adding, “It is very likely that machine guns were used, since the bullet wounds were very close to each other as well as numerous.”
Autopsy reports performed on four Tibetans by the Lhasa PSB “show that one of them had received 17 gunshot wounds while two women were shot 15 times and eight times respectively,” TCHRD said, noting that bodies were recovered from numerous sites around the city.
Additionally, the four subjects autopsied had been assigned numbers 92, 93, 94, and 101, suggesting that at least 101 bodies were being held in the morgue though not all may have been Tibetan or the victims of protest violence.
Those listed as killed in the PSB report were shot on or around March 14, 2008, when anti-China rioting rocked Lhasa after five days of peaceful protests were suppressed by police, with Tibetan demonstrators torching Chinese-owned shops and cars in the worst violence in the region in two decades.
Protests then spread across China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and into Tibetan-populated provinces of western China, causing official embarrassment ahead of the August 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Chinese officials later said that 22 people, mostly Han Chinese and Hui Muslim civilians, had died in the Lhasa rioting, but denied that police had fired on protesters.
And speaking to the press on March 17, 2008, TAR governor Jampa Phuntsok declared that Chinese security forces had not used lethal force against Tibetans, TCHRD noted in its report.
“[The PSB] report, if verified, appears to place the Chinese authorities in an embarrassing position,” said Columbia University Tibet scholar Robbie Barnett.
“It is extremely rare to find specific documented evidence that directly contradicts a formal, repeated statement by top officials in Beijing,” Barnett said.
“But this report will need careful checking and examination in order to establish precisely what it says, as the exile report does not give a full translation of the document.”