Police in Nepal cracked down on the country’s Tibetan community over the weekend, closing monasteries and taking 27 Tibetans and Nepal residents of other nationalities into temporary custody to prevent demonstrations during a visit by China’s president Xi Jinping, sources said on Tuesday.
Xi’s Oct. 12-13 visit was the first to Nepal by a Chinese president since 1996, and followed a day-long visit by the Chinese leader to India that saw at least 15 members of a Tibetan exile organization detained for planning protests.
In Nepal, no protests had been planned, Tenzin Namdar—a Tibetan citizen of Nepal and one of those detained—told RFA’s Tibetan Service in an interview.
“There was not a single protest incident, nor had anyone planned anything,” said Namdar, who works on Tibetan refugee issues for the advocacy group Human Rights in Nepal (HURON).
“The Nepali police acted preemptively by taking numerous people into custody. In fact, there had been clear instructions from Tibetan community leaders in Nepal not to antagonize [authorities] by holding protest rallies,” he said.
Namdar himself was detained on Oct. 11, a day before Xi’s arrival in Nepal, he said.
“I was warned by friends in the police to go into hiding or face detention. I didn’t want to run away, and I was feeling unwell with a cold, so I decided to stay home.”
Namdar was then summoned by Nepali police in plainclothes who told him that his name was shown on a list as a “person of concern,” he said.
“I told them that I have lived in Nepal for over 40 years and hold a Nepali passport, but they paid no attention. Then they asked me about Tibetans who had gone from Nepal to attend a meeting in Dharamsala, India, and I said that none of them had returned yet.”
Others also held
Two other men were brought in and held with Namdar while he was detained—one of them a Tibetan named Lobsang and the other a Bhutanese yogi, or religious retreatant, called Karma Tseten—he said.
“I told them it would be impossible for a yogi to be involved with protests, but the police said the yogi’s name was on the list and even showed me a photo,” Namdar said, adding, “Some people may have been detained because their names were mistaken for the names of other people.”
Also detained in the run-up to Xi’s visit were three Tibetans doing ritual circumambulation of a religious site, along with two Tibetan businessmen found selling T-shirts and other merchandise promoting freedom for Tibet from Chinese rule, Namdar said.
“Their detention has been extended for a further five days,” Namdar said, referring to the businessmen. “We are hoping they may be released sooner than that.”
Altogether, around 27 people including Tibetans, Sherpas, Tamang, a Bhutanese, and a Ladakhi were detained for “precautionary measures” during the Chinese president’s visit, police sources in Nepal said, quoted in a HURON press release following Xi’s departure from Nepal.
Tibetan monasteries in Nepal were meanwhile closed, with monks prevented from leaving or returning during the two days of the visit, Namdar said.
“The Jawalakhel Tibetan refugee settlement was put under lockdown, and even Tibetan homes for the elderly were kept under watch,” Namdar said, calling the severity of the restrictions on Nepal’s Tibetan community “unprecedented.”
“Police were going to the homes of Tibetans to apprehend them, which was very alarming. I was even put in handcuffs when going to the restroom.”
“The police released me after Xi left Nepal, after making me sign some documents,” he said.
Two days in hiding
Also speaking to RFA, a Tibetan resident of Bodhanath in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu named Konchok said he had evaded police after two plainclothes officers came looking for him at his home on Oct. 11.
“I was away from home that morning, and they came to my house and waited outside after learning that I wasn’t home,” he said.
“One officer named Karma called me on the phone, telling me to come home, and I told them that I wouldn’t be able to come back right away because I was having some work done on my car," Konchok said.
"And after that, a friend called me and said that I had better go into hiding since Chinese spies and police were looking for me.”
Konchok then stayed in hiding for two days at a friend’s house, he said, adding, “I was concerned that if the police arrested me, they would interrogate me for confidential information on Tibetan refugee issues, since I work for the local Tibetan Assembly.”
“I never had any intention to protest against Xi’s state visit to Nepal,” he said.
Delegates may return
Kathmandu had also prevented 33 Tibetan delegates based in Nepal from returning home after they attended a major meeting in Dharamsala, India, in early October of Tibetan exile groups from around the world, the delegates told RFA.
They were permitted to return to Nepal only after Xi departed.
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 growing economic ties with Beijing, with promises of millions of dollars of Chinese investment in Nepalese infrastructure projects, in cracking down on Tibetan community activities in the country, such as elections among the refugee community and birthday celebrations for the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Dorjee Damdul and Lhuboom for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.