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Rights group: Chinese security used indiscriminate force to break up 2008 Tibet protest

July 23, 2010

By Gillian Wong
The Associated Press
July 22, 2010

BEIJING -- Chinese security forces fired
indiscriminately on Tibetan protesters in 2008
and beat and kicked others until they lay
motionless on the ground, a rights group said in
a report detailing unrest that the government says it suppressed legally.

The Human Rights Watch report released Thursday
-- using rare eyewitness accounts -- examines
China's crackdown on the broadest anti-government
uprising the country has faced from Tibetans in nearly 50 years.

Riots started in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and
then spread to communities across China's west.

Since the unrest, Beijing has sought to quash
accounts of rights abuses. It has flooded the
region with troops, put Tibetans under tighter
scrutiny, reduced the flow of international
tourists and allowed in only a few foreign reporters under government escort.

Among the report's findings: Witnesses say on
March 14, 2008, security forces in Lhasa opened
fire on protesters near the Barkhor, the heart of
the old city. They say that at several rallies,
security forces also hit demonstrators with
batons and rifle butts until they were no longer
moving. As protests spread across the Tibetan
plateau, security forces shot at secondary school
students headed to a demonstration and at monks
and civilians marching toward government buildings.

The 73-page report says security forces also
tortured protesters and others during arrests and
in detention by beating them and depriving them
of food and sanitary conditions. It points out
that hundreds of Tibetans arrested in the crackdown remain unaccounted for.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang
accused Human Rights Watch of bias. The events in
Lhasa were "serious, violent criminal incidents
that caused great loss to the lives and property
of the local people," Qin said in a statement.

He said authorities enforced the law in a legal,
civilized way and that ethnic customs and human dignity were respected.

The 2008 uprising started with several days of
anti-government protests by Buddhist monks in
Lhasa and then turned into riots, with Tibetans
attacking Chinese-owned shops and homes. China
has said 22 people died in the Lhasa riots.
Overseas Tibet supporters say many times that
number have been killed in protests and the ensuing security crackdown.

To compile its account, New York-based Human
Rights Watch said its researchers interviewed 203
Tibetan refugees and visitors outside China between March 2008 and April 2010.

"Over the past two years, security forces acted
in a way that is completely disproportionate to
the actual threat to public order," said Nicholas
Bequelin, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
"The Chinese government could do something about
it. This is not about their sovereignty in Tibet,
this is about how their security forces behave."

The report investigates cases in which security
forces shot at demonstrators in Lhasa and in the
Tibetan areas of Aba and Ganzi in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

It cites a 24-year-old Tibetan woman who was near
the Barkhor Square and said protesters roamed
freely on March 14 until the afternoon, when troops showed up and opened fire.

"When the soldiers showed up later, they threw
tear gas. A gas canister hit my leg and I
couldn't walk any more," the report quoted the
woman as saying. "Then there was indiscriminate
shooting and we saw two people shot dead in front of us."

A 33-year-old monk from a monastery west of Lhasa
said he was beaten with clubs and sticks by
guards at detention facilities where he was held,
and beaten again, with sand-filled rubber tubes,
when sentenced to a year in a labor camp.
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