HONG KONG—Police in China have rounded up and bundled onto buses nearly 100 Tibetans protesting outside a company in the northeastern municipality of Tianjin that they say cheated them through a pyramid scheme, a spokesman for the group said.
“We are in Tianjin right now. I was placed in a bus, and we are about to leave for Chengdu,” in the southwestern province of Sichuan, Tsephel, a spokesman for the protesters, said.
“All the Tibetan protesters were dumped into different vehicles. Around 5 a.m., when we were sleeping, more than 3,000 armed police attacked us. They beat us, handcuffed us, and forced us to board different vehicles. There were more than 100 vehicles in the parking lot,” he said in a telephone interview.
Tsephel estimated the number of protesters at 98 people.
Police beat some of the protesters and dragged them into waiting vehicles, he said, adding, “Many of us were hurt, and one person was so severely beaten that he fainted and fell to the ground.”
No comment was available from the local police, who hung up when contacted by telephone.
No power to intervene
Government officials who had been sent to Tianjin to urge the group to stop protesting were unable to intervene.
“They [the officials] came from the TAR [the Tibetan Autonomous Region], Qinghai, and Sichuan,” he said. “They couldn’t do anything. They were assigned to convince us to stop protesting. When we talked to them, they expressed their helplessness.”
“I think we will be transported to Chengdu by bus and train. From Chengdu we would be transported by bus again and handed over to our respective local authorities,” Tsephel said.
“We are going to press the local government to compensate our losses. We cannot remain quiet and silent. Each of us should be compensated with 100,000 yuan,” he said.
The Tibetans, who claim they were cheated in a pyramid scheme run by a purported health-products company, had staged protests in several Chinese cities.
They have been seeking restitution from TIENS at its company headquarters in Tianjin municipality. Tibetan investors said they were promised large returns on initial investments but have received nothing.
Those who brought in additional investors as instructed by the company also saw their friends and family cheated out of funds, they said.
Authorities in Tianjin and TIENS company officials have refused to comment.
Tsering Dhargyal, 54, from the Chamdo district of Kham in China’s western Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), said the group planned to sue.
Tsering Dhargyal said members of the group first reported being contacted by company officials on July 2, 2007, and said they had been “pushed” to accept an offer to invest.
He said the members who became investors in the company come from all over Tibet, including Lhasa, Kham, and Amdo.
“For an initial investment of 2,800 yuan (U.S. $410) from each individual, we were promised great prosperity in return. They called it a big family business, which is not only good for Tibetan people, but for the nation as a whole. In that way we collected money and joined the business,” Dhargyal said.
Tsering Dhargyal said TIENS explained to investors that it had no products to sell and instead generated business “through people.”
“For example, I went alone, and they said that my responsibility was to bring two people. The next two people must bring two more, and this would continue until it reached the thousands,” he said.
Tsering Dhargyal said that investors were paid according to the number of people the recruited, but they soon learned that it was impossible to reach the quotas TIENS had set for them.
He said he had sold all of his possessions to invest in the company and attend the training sessions.
“We sold our land and animals to cover the expense to come [to mainland China] in the hope of becoming rich, but only now realize it was a scam.”
Original reporting by Lobsang Choephel for RFA’s Tibetan service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.