Nepalese police detained eight Tibetans in Kathmandu this week in a bid to block anti-China protests during the visit of a high-level delegation from Beijing, sources said.
The delegation, led by Chinese Communist Party Politburo security chief Zhou Yongkang, arrived in Nepal’s capital on Tuesday for a three-day visit, where it announced a $50 million aid package to the impoverished Himalayan country.
Prior to the arrival, Nepalese security officials both in uniform and in civilian dress were deployed in Tibetan areas and kept up a close surveillance of Tibetan refugees.
Eight Tibetans were detained during the night of Aug. 15 and in the morning hours of Aug. 16, before the arrival of the Chinese delegation.
The eight were identified as Sonam Tashi, Thubten Dorje, and four others from the vicinity of the Boudha Stupa, and Dondrub and Tsekyab Palmo from the Jawalakhel Tibetan settlement.
“The Nepalese security officers who detained us said that we would be held until the Chinese delegation returned home,” one of the eight said, speaking from detention to an RFA reporter on condition of anonymity.
“Police officials told the Nepal Human Rights Organization that the Tibetans were detained in order to preempt anti-China protests during the delegation’s visit,” Sonam Jabuk, a human rights activist, said.
Refugee welfare chief warned
Police also warned Thinley Lama, head of the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office in Nepal, against taking “anti-China actions,” sources said.
Two weeks ago, Thinley Lama was held briefly and interrogated by police after he held a press conference asking the Nepal government to ensure the rights of the country’s 20,000 Tibetan refugees under Nepal’s new constitution.
Separately, the Washington-based advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet confirmed the detentions.
“Although four of the eight Tibetans have now been released, a number of senior Tibetans in the community have gone into hiding,” the group said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The Tibetan community in Kathmandu are fearful of other arrests during the 60-member Chinese delegation visit this week, with reports yesterday that police in Kathmandu were searching for Tibetans known to have taken part in peaceful demonstrations since 2008,” ICT said.
“Tibetans are frightened this week,” ICT quoted a Tibetan researcher in the Nepalese capital as saying.
“Normally, things are insecure, but over the past few days Nepalese intelligence and police are watching our every movement.”
'Business as usual'
Mikel Dunham, a writer and blogger on Nepal’s politics who frequently travels to the country, described the detention of the Tibetans as “business as usual.”
“With increasing regularity for at least two years, and with no end in sight, it now seems to be the official policy to preventively arrest Tibetans who have been known in the past to vocalize their discontent with the Chinese situation.”
Dunham said that some of those picked up had probably been arrested before, and that all had probably been watched by the police for some time.
Increasingly, Tibetans living in Nepal are being harassed for political expression that is "wholly protected under Nepali law," said Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy Director for the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.
"Nepal used to be something of a haven for Tibetans, but successive Nepali governments appear to be much more susceptible to Chinese pressure to limit those activities."
Viewed with suspicion
Tibetan refugees living in Nepal are under pressure to avoid asserting their national identity as their host country moves closer to its powerful northern neighbor China, analysts say.
Even religious ceremonies and community gatherings by Tibetans are increasingly viewed with suspicion by authorities in Nepal. They were also prevented from celebrating the birthday of the Dalai Lama last month.
Many of the refugees arrived in Nepal following a failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in which thousands fled south across the Himalayas.
Many still flee Tibet each year, hoping to transit Nepal to India, home of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan service. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.