KATHMANDU—Chinese authorities in Lhasa have detained two Tibetans and one Nepalese ethnic Sherpa for allegedly escorting Tibetan asylum-seekers from China into India.
The detentions on Oct. 9 and 10 follow an incident on Sept. 30 in which Chinese guards opened fire on a group of Tibetans fleeing across the rugged border with Nepal, killing two people. Hundreds of Tibetans flee from China to Nepal and India every year seeking greater freedom of religion and expression.
Several sources told RFA’s Tibetan service that a team of Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials from the central Barkhor [in Chinese, Bagojie] area raided a home in Lophuk, in Lhasa city, late on Oct. 9. They detained two Tibetans there, the sources said.
“One of the Tibetans is named Tashi, from Chamdo [Changdu] county in the TAR [Tibetan Autonomous Region], and the other is named Yedor, from Dege Jomda [Dege Jiangda] county, also in the TAR,” said one source who asked not to be named.
“They also detained a Sherpa from Nepal in the Barkhor area on Oct. 10, but his name is unknown,” another source said. “He is also suspected of working as an escort for Tibetans [trying to] escape to Nepal.” One of the three men is being held in Gutsa prison in Lhasa, sources told RFA, but the whereabouts of the other two are unknown.
PSB officers took the precaution of ensuring no one witnessed the Oct. 9 raid, the Tibetan sources said.
The escorts run these operations for money. On average they charge 1,000 to 2,000 yuan for children.
“When they raided the Tibetan family where two Tibetans were living as tenants, they instructed them not to tell anything,” said one Tibetan. “Before arresting the two Tibetans, they made sure all the neighbors were inside their houses. It seems that nobody including the landlord knew that those two Tibetans were working as [border] escorts."
Authorities in Lhasa, contacted by telephone, declined to comment.
Tibetan sources meanwhile report that 53 other Tibetans have been detained since September as they tried to flee to Nepal. These include groups of nine, 16, and 28 people, detained in the Dzonga area of Ngari [Ali] prefecture, Shigatse city in Shigatse [Rikaze] prefecture, and Lhatze county of Shigatse, respectively. Two monks detained with the group of 28 in Lhatze were released after explaining that they were making a pilgrimage rather than seeking asylum.
These figures were reported by several sources but cannot be independently confirmed.
Tibetans in the region have reacted in alarm to the deadly Sept. 30 incident in which Chinese border guards fired on a group of Tibetans trekking through the Mount Everest region, killing two people.
Another 36 or 37 Tibetans in the group were detained, while 43 reached Kathmandu on Oct. 10.
One former border escort said fleeing Tibetans generally try to cross the border during colder months. “They cross this pass during winter months when the river in the area is frozen. That way they could easily cross the river,” the escort said.
“Once you are in the area, if you start early, around 5 a.m., you can easily cross over into Nepal by 3 p.m.” the same day.
“Many years back, a Chinese border army post was stationed close to Nangpa La pass but it was withdrawn. So there was no permanent border army station there,” he said.
In the shooting incident, “the Tibetan escapees either bumped into Chinese soldiers who were on routine patrol in the area or maybe the Tibetans group who came in two trucks were spotted earlier and followed to the border."
In the wake of the shooting, which Chinese authorities have promised to investigate, “Many Tibetans are worried about [the possibility of arrest],” one source said. "There is tension among the Tibetans inside Lhasa city.”
Many Tibetans in Lhasa from the Amdo and Kham regions have felt compelled to leave Lhasa because Chinese authorities there—possibly in response to an international outcry over the shootings—are cracking down, sources say.
Most Tibetans who flee to Nepal, and ultimately to India, are natives of the Amdo and Kham regions, who must come to Lhasa to find guides who escort them across the rugged border for pay.
“The escorts run these operations for money. On average they charge 1,000 to 2,000 yuan for children. Some groups escort them from the Drum [Zhangmu] border area and they charge 15,000 to 20,000 Nepalese rupees per head,” a Tibetan resident in Kathmandu who has worked as a border escort said.
One of the Tibetans who fled through the Dzonga area of Ngari prefecture in September managed to reach Nepal with one other person after escaping from detention—leaving seven other Tibetans behind.
“When we were about to cross over a pass, we reached a Tibetan house. By then two Chinese vehicles [had also arrived] and we were arrested. Then we were taken inside the house and strip searched,” the Tibetan said in an interview.
“When we didn't stand straight, they hit us with their rifle butts. Then we were shackled and detained in the Dzonga area of Ngari prefecture for 13 days. After 13 days, our bodies were full of lice and very weak, and my friend and I decided to escape."
In recent years, thousands of Tibetans have risked the illegal border crossing into Nepal and India in search of better educational opportunities and religious freedom.
Many end up in Dharamsala, a town in northern India where their exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, has lived since 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. More than 20,000 Tibetan refugees currently live in Nepal, although those who arrive now are required to travel on to neighboring India.
Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Translation by Karma Dorjee. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.