Tensions are High as the Olympic Torch Arrives in Lhasa

The Olympic torch relay will travel to the heavily guarded Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on 21 June after the three-day tour that was initially planned was cut to one day. The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) remains highly concerned about the level of restriction imposed on the Tibetan people’s fundamental freedoms in the months that have followed in the wake of the March protests.

Since the beginning of June this year, several thousand of the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and Public Security Bureau (PSB) forces were redeployed into main market squares, streets, major monasteries and road junctions around Lhasa city to check and respond to any untoward incidents during the Olympic torch relay, which is scheduled to travel from Norbulingka to Potala Palace square tomorrow. According to an official Chinese government website, the 11-km relay will start from Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama and end at the Potala Palace, but it has not mentioned the timing of the torch relay. An official internal circular had been sent to Chinese government departments ordering their heads to discourage their own employees, as well as the common citizens, from taking part in any political activities during the torch relay.

In a press conference during the third Chinese state sponsored media tour of Tibet on 3 June, in response to a question raised by a Hong Kong based journalist, Pema Thinley, the Vice-Chairman of the “Tibet Autonomous Region” (‘TAR’) government acknowledged the intensification of the security forces and identified what he saw as its three main motivations. He concluded that the increased pressure from the Chinese government might be an effort to reduce “the possibility of further unspecified ‘incidents’ in Lhasa during the Olympic torch relay, secondly to check any untoward incident during Saka Dawa (a Buddhist holy month) and finally to crush pro-Tibet Independence activists.”

Mr. Thinley’s perspective reemphasizes earlier comments made by Chinese authorities in Tibet who have promised to “severely punish” and “give no indulgence” to Tibetans who would try to “sabotage” the torch relay.

The move by the Chinese authorities to allow journalists from 29 foreign media groups to cover the Lhasa leg of Olympic torch relay, however, has been welcomed by those calling for increased media access to Tibet. Because the media tours allowed foreign journalists have been so closely monitored and controlled though, for many there still remains something to be desired. Many still believe that the authorities should provide free and unfettered access to all media to shed light on the situation on the ground. TCHRD believes that the media presence in Lhasa for the torch relay would not only do good, but also that Chinese authorities should provide unfettered access to foreign journalist to speak freely to Tibetans, visit prominent monasteries and nunneries which remain sealed off, visit those in detention, or otherwise investigate aspects of the recent protests.

Since there has been a complete lockdown in Tibet and restrictions on the travel of independent international observers to Tibet, as well as severe media censorship, the Chinese authorities currently have a pseudo state-sanctioned license to commit human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, beatings, and abductions of Tibetans. The Centre has recorded the arrests or arbitrary detention of more than 6,500 Tibetans and the deaths of more than 100 others. Additionally, the cases of thousands of injured Tibetans remain unaccounted for since 10 March Protests across Tibet. Reportedly, many Tibetans have also died shortly after being released from Chinese custody, in which they were subjected to inhumane torture. In one instance, Nechung, a 38- year-old mother of four children from Charu Hu Village in Ngaba County, Ngaba “TAP”, Sichuan Province, died days after being subjected to brutal torture in a Chinese prison on 17 April 2008. In another instance, Dawa, a 31 year-old Tibetan farmer from Dedrong Village, Jangkha Township, Phenpo Lhundup County, Lhasa City, “TAR”, died on 1 April 2008 after being severely beaten by Chinese prison guards.

Numerous credible reports received by the TCHRD about the scale and intensity of the Chinese government’s repression across Tibet suggests that authorities have used the March Protests as an opportunity to launch a systematic crackdown on Tibetans’ fundamental rights. The Chinese authorities have deployed a large number of security forces to suppress further demonstrations and have intensified their “patriotic re-education campaign” across all sections of Tibetan communities. So far, the Chinese officials have given only limited information on those who have been sentenced after swift trial proceedings.

Following the March protests in Lhasa and other traditional Tibetan areas in the east and north, the Chinese authorities have repeatedly disregarded demands made by the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile to allow independent international observers into Tibet to report on the continuing protests there and the reactions of the Chinese government that occur in the aftermath. Recently, in response to the international condemnation of the brutal crackdowns on the protesters, the Chinese government organized three official media tours to Lhasa and Labrang and permitted 15 diplomats to visit Lhasa in late March, but seriously restricted their ability to speak freely to Tibetans.

In early April, a request was made by Ms. Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the senior Chinese diplomats in Geneva to visit Tibet to independently witness first-hand the human rights violations in the ongoing crisis in Tibet. Her request was declined by the Chinese government on the grounds that ‘the timing was not convenient.” Similarly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is mandated to visit detention facilities and check on the well-being of prisoners worldwide, has never been allowed to carry out such work in China, and particularly not in Tibet, since 10 March protests, which subsequently led to mass arrests and detentions across Tibet. In addition, six United Nations Special Procedures mandate holders issued a joint statement calling for “greater and unfettered access to the regions for journalists and independent observers, guarantees for the free flow of information, and full implementation of international standards in regard to the treatment of protesters and those detained,” but all of these demands were ignored.

Hundreds of Tibetans are still languishing in the Chinese administered prisons and detention centers for peacefully expressing their opinions, exercising fundamental human rights and even many whose families still have no knowledge of their whereabouts.

Human rights transgressions in China remain systematic and widespread and the communist regime continues to trample upon the civil liberties and democratic rights of Tibetans. The TCHRD calls upon government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to respect the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people to express their opinion peacefully as enshrined in the Chinese Constitution and numerous International human rights covenants that PRC had signed and ratified

to top