Tibet situation volatile amid Chinese crackdown on dissidents, say exiles

Dharamsala, Feb 24 (IANS) Chinese authorities have stepped up major crackdowns against suspected dissidents in Tibet in recent months, with young men taken away from homes and families being separated. Tibetans, who had travelled out of China on valid documents, have been detained on suspicion on return and over a score have immolated themselves in protest, say Tibetans living here.

An 18-year-old monk immolated himself in front of a monastery in Tibet. While in flames, he was praying, ‘May His Holiness the Dalai Lama live thousands of years’ and ‘Freedom for Tibet’.

Reported last week, it is the latest incident to have occurred in Tibet against Chinese policies and in support of freedom, said the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the exiled Tibetan community’s elected body based in this north Indian hill town.

In the past year, 23 monks, nuns and other Tibetans set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule, according to the CTA. It has procured footage of Chinese police brutalities on Tibetans.

‘The situation inside Tibet is extremely grim. Tibet is virtually sealed off. The military build-up is very heavy,’ Thubten Samphel, secretary of the department of information and international relations of CTA, told IANS.

CTA said the Chinese have launched a massive crackdown on Tibetans who visited India for the Kalachakra teachings presided over by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya in Bihar in January.

Several hundred Tibetans who had returned from India have been detained and are being forced to undergo political re-education, said the CTA quoting a New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

HRW said it believed it was the first time since the late 1970s that the authorities had detained Tibetan lay people in such large numbers, and comes as China frets about unrest in Tibetan areas.

The Chinese government should immediately investigate the shootings of Tibetan protesters by security forces, open Tibetan areas to international observers, and engage with Tibetan representatives address grievances and growing violence, HRW said.

It said the Chinese security forces opened fire on protesters Jan 23 and 24, killing at least two people and injuring dozen more.

‘In the current very volatile situation, it is especially important for Chinese forces to refrain from using disproportionate force,’ said Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW.

Tibetan advocacy website Phayul said in an effort to coax Tibetans to celebrate the sacred weeklong Losar New Year festival that began Wednesday, the government had temporarily released a few Tibetans who were detained upon their return from pilgrimage to India and Nepal.

‘(But) they have been told that their detention will continue after the new year,’ a Tibetan from Lhasa told Phayul.

This year, the Tibetan parliament-in-exile has urged Tibetans living in exile not to celebrate Losar following continuing self-immolations in Tibet.

Parliament Speaker Penpa Tsering making the official statement ahead of the solidarity fast on the first day of Losar said: ‘Parliament is appealing to the Chinese authorities to withdraw the large reinforcement of military to reduce tensions and the numbers of political prisoners.

‘Resume dialogue with the Tibetans with commitment and conviction to seek a lasting solution to the issue of Tibet and peace and stability in the whole geo-strategic region.’

Fearing further security build up in Tibet with the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising coming up, prime minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay said: ‘March 10, our National Uprising Day, is coming up soon. Participate in events peacefully, legally and with dignity.’

Some 140,000 Tibetans now live in exile, over 100,000 of them in different parts of India. Over six million Tibetans live in what is now known as Tibet Autonomous Region of China.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])