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Repression in Tibet

August 11, 2010

Human Rights Watch Report Takes The Lid Off
Claude Arpi
The Statesman (India)
August 7, 2010

A new report of Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled
"I Saw It with My Own Eyes ~ Abuses by Chinese
Security Forces in Tibet, 2008-2010” has recently
made the headlines. It deals with the unrest on
the Tibetan plateau in March-April 2008. As a lot
of ink has already gone into the subject, one
could ask why publish a new report, two years
after the happenings? It is not really the
sequence of events which preceded those
tumultuous days, but rather the way the Chinese
authorities handled the riots which are unveiled in the HRW report.

For the human rights organization: "The Chinese
government has yet to explain the circumstances
that led to dozens of clashes between protesters
and police. It has not addressed how its security
forces responded to the unrest …Nor has it
revealed the fate of hundreds of Tibetans
arrested during the protests, or disclosed how
many it has detained, sentenced, still holds
pending trial, or has sentenced to extra-judicial forms of detention”.

In other words, Beijing has something to hide.
Nicholas Bequelin, who is based in Hong Kong and
worked for HRW explains in an interview with the
French daily, Le Monde: “We worked without a
priori, but to answer the main issue, what is the
Chinese government trying to hide by locking the
entire Tibetan plateau since the demonstration of March 2008.”

Bequelin considers that it is now difficult for
Beijing to refute the HRW Report based on
official Chinese sources and eye-witness accounts
(200 interviews conducted by HRW between March 2008 and April 2010).

One of the conclusions is that the scale of human
rights violations was far greater than previously
believed. Chinese forces broke international laws
such as disproportionate use of force, torture
and arbitrary detention. Further, it reveals that
violations continue, including disappearances,
wrongful convictions or persecution of families.

Let us recall the facts. The troubles started on
10 March 2008 when 300 monks from Drepung
Monastery, near Lhasa started a peaceful protest
march towards Barkhor Street, in Central Lhasa. A
few monks were immediately arrested by Public
Security Bureau (PSB) officials. The next day,
the Sera Monastery in turn got involved in
peaceful demonstrations. Again some monks were
arrested, severely beaten and manhandled by PSB
officials. The following day, about 2,000 Chinese
troops fired teargas to disperse hundreds of Sera
Monastery monks calling for the release of their
fellow monks while shouting pro-Tibet slogans.

March 14, 2008 will remain etched in the history
of protests in Tibet. It was subsequently termed
‘the 3/14 incident’ by Beijing, probably to make
it sound like a terrorist attack against the
People’s Republic of China. In the morning, about
100 monks from Ramoche monastery began to
demonstrate against the arrest of monks. Once
again they were stopped and beaten by the police.
This infuriated the Tibetans who happened to pass
by the area. From then on, the situation went out of control.

Soon, a large-scale demonstration involving tens
of thousands of people led to a confrontation
between Tibetans and the People’s Armed Police.
The unrest spread to all the Tibetan-inhabited
areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. All
the events occurred when local party cadres were
attending the annual National People’s Congress in Beijing.

Many eyewitnesses told the HRW tales of horror:
"The witness described soldiers beating an
elderly man in his sixties who continued to shout
slogans after he had already been loaded in a
truck: From inside the truck he kept shouting
‘May His Holiness the Dalai Lama live for 10,000
years!’ and ‘Tibet is independent!’, and for
this, five or six soldiers threw him to the
ground and beat him so severely that he seemed close to death."

The Chinese government immediately put the blame
on the ‘Dalai Lama and his clique’. An official
in Lhasa told Xinhua that there had been enough
evidence to prove that the sabotage in Lhasa was
“organized, premeditated and masterminded" by the
Dalai clique. Though the Chinese government
always maintained that it applied ‘limited’ use
of force (and spoke about the loss of 10 lives
‘mainly Chinese and Muslim business persons!’),
the Dalai Lama’s administration mentioned at least 100 dead.

Instead of cooling down the situation, Zhang
Qingli, the party chief in Tibet, created more
resentment by calling the Dalai Lama “a wolf in
monk’s clothes, a devil with a human face” and
declaring that “those who do not love the
motherland are not qualified to be human beings."
The HRW report, however, points out that no
evidence of any external intervention has ever been given by Beijing.

Interestingly, another report prepared by a
Chinese think-tank, Beijing Gongmeng Consulting,
was published in 2009. It had also contradicted
the party’s official version. The authors, a
group of Chinese lawyers spent one month in Tibet
"interviewing Tibetan monks, nomads, farmers,
scholars, migrants, artists, and business people."

The lawyers first point out "major errors in
government policy" after the March-April 2008
protests. One was ‘over-propagandizing of
violence’; another, encouragement of racist
sentiment towards Tibetans: "The excessive
response of the government all over Tibet was to
regard every tree and blade of grass as a potential enemy soldier."

According to them, this further strained
relations between the local Tibetans and the Han
migrants. One of their conclusions was:
“Understanding is a precondition for discussion,
unity and development. If the promotion of
healthy development in Tibetan areas is truly
desired then there must be a change in thinking
and an adjustment in thinking behind the current
nationality theories and policies."

The lawyers’ report found that in Tibet, the
difficult terrain has created "locally fixed
power networks, which inevitably lead to a high
incidence of corruption and dereliction of duty.”
For the Chinese lawyers, this new aristocracy,
which is ‘legitimized by the party’, is even more powerful than the old one.

The Tibetan Diaspora probably could not disagree
with some of the lawyers’ conclusions.
Particularly, when they say that, ‘foreign
forces’ and ‘Tibet independence’ are used by
“many local officials as fig leaves to conceal
their mistakes in governance and to repress
social discontent "elevating everything to the
level of splittist forces in order to conceal their errors."

A similar conclusion was arrived at in the 70,000
character petition sent by the previous Panchen
Lama to Premier Zhou Enlai way back in 1962, for
which the Lama spent 17 years in jail. Ater his
release, he worked closely with the Communist
Government, but continued to be disturbed by the
situation inside Tibet. In January 1989, while
declaring open the tombs of his predecessors at
the Tashilhunpo Monastery, he declared: "The
Chinese rule in Tibet had brought more
destruction than benefit to the Tibetan people."
Four days after delivering this historic speech
(witnessed by the then party boss, today President Hu Jintao), he passed away.

The mysterious nature of his death generated a
lot of speculation. Six years later, soon after
the Dalai Lama formally announced that Gedhun
Choeki Nyima, a six-year old boy born in Tibet,
was the genuine reincarnation of the Eleventh
Panchen Lama, the boy was arrested. Since then,
he is known as the "youngest political prisoner
in the world." Beijing later ‘discovered’ its own
incarnation of the Panchen Lama who has recently
been ‘promoted’ as a delegate to the Chinese
People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Incidents like these are the root cause of the
resentment of the local Tibetan populations
against the Chinese occupants. There is no need
to go further to understand the events of
March-April 2008. The HRW report is, however, a welcome addition.

* The writer is an expert on China-Tibet
relations and author of the Fate of Tibet)
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