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NEPAL: Tibetans Warned of Deportation to China

Damakant Jayshi

KATHMANDU, Apr 1 2008 (IPS) - When King Gyanendra staged his military-backed coup in February 2005, Nepal’s political parties – including the then outlawed Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – formed an alliance that successfully opposed the monarch&#39s assault on civil liberties.

But the coalition government formed by the same political parties, known as the seven-party alliance (SPA), is beginning to resemble the king’s autocratic regime by denying the Tibetans – some Nepali citizens, others refugees – the right to protest against oppressive Chinese rule in their homeland.

To show support for Beijing’s &#39one China&#39 policy that recognises Tibet and Taiwan as integral parts of China, the Nepal government has issued a statement reiterating its "principled stand". It has also expressed support for the Chinese government in organising the Beijing Summer Olympics in August.

Neither the government nor Nepal’s political parties have cared to comment on the crackdown against protestors in Kathmandu – or in Lhasa or New Delhi.

Appeasement of its powerful northern neighbour by a Nepali government is not new. Gyanendra sought Beijing’s support for his February 2005 coup by ordering the closure of the Office of the Representative of the Dalai Lama in Kathmandu.

Tibetan residents in Kathmandu have been agitating since Mar. 10 when, accompanied by monks, they tried to march towards the Chinese Embassy to hand over a memorandum.

On Saturday, police arrested 84 Tibetans close to Chinese news agency Xinhua&#39s Kathmandu office. This time the police did not just beat and detain the Tibetans but also threatened them with deportation to China.

Amnesty International-Nepal, following Nepali procedure, notified Kathmandu authorities of intention to hold a peaceful protest on March 24. But the rights watchdog was denied permission on the grounds that allowing such a protest would "adversely affect relations between (the) two countries&#39&#39.

When the protest went ahead, 148 individuals were arrested, including 13 Nepali human rights defenders. Police have restricted freedom of movement for individuals from three major Tibetan neighborhoods in Kathmandu, particularly monks and nuns.

According to Amnesty, police have arbitrarily arrested and detained over 1,500 people both during and since the demonstrations. No legal justification for the arrests and detentions has been offered and the home ministry has explicitly stated that no "anti-China activities" will be allowed in Nepal.

Amnesty and the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented unnecessary and excessive use of force during arrests as well as ill treatment during arrests and detention. ‘’We are particularly concerned by increasing evidence of police use of sexual and other forms of assault, including of minors, during arrests, violating the right to physical integrity,’’ a joint statement by the two lobbies said on Tuesday.

The threat of deportation constituted ‘’a serious violation of Nepal’s international human rights obligations,’’ the statement said. ‘’China has been cited by the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for its abuses of political dissidents in China, and those who have been protesting Chinese rule in Tibet will almost certainly be treated as dissidents.’’

‘’Should the Nepal police continue to engage in conduct that was condemned by all of the current governing parties, Nepali human rights defenders, and the international community, during the People’s Movement of 2005-2006, it will betray its own record of restoring in April 2006 fundamental civil and political rights,’’ the statement said.

Speaking with IPS on Wednesday foreign ministry spokesman, Hira Bahadur Thapa, denied that human rights violations were perpetrated on the Tibetans. "We cannot allow the use of Nepali land to activities detrimental to the interests of China," Thapa said. He declined to say whether the Chinese government was pressurising its Nepali counterpart to tackle the protests firmly.

Thapa added that the government was firm in preventing the Tibetan protestors to march towards the Chinese Embassy, fearing a repeat of what happened in New Delhi recently. Some Tibetans had scaled the wall of its embassy in the Indian capital.

Modraj Dotel, home ministry spokesman (responsible for maintaining law and order), denied there were any brutalities. He admitted that the police has been asked to thwart anti-China protests, and in doing so, the police did snatch placards carried by protestors. "If there is any formal report of massive violations by police, the government will order a probe," he told IPS. Dotel denied the HRW report&#39s allegation of torture in police custody.

Tibetans refugees started flocking to Nepal after the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule and the Dalai Lama fled over the Himalayas into exile in India.

The government of Nepal does not grant refugee status to Tibetans who flee Tibet, but usually allows them unhindered passage to India. On a few occasions, the government – under pressure from the Chinese government -has deported Tibetan exiles and asylum seekers to China.

On average 2,500 Tibetans flee to India via Nepal each year. Officially, there are about 14,000 Tibetans living in Nepal, but according to Tibetan statistics the number may be closer to 20,000.

"We are firm on one China policy and cannot allow these demonstrations to affect it," Prof. Lok Raj Baral, diplomat and former Nepali ambassador to India, told IPS. "But at the same time, refugees&#39 peaceful protests cannot be disallowed as that would constitute violation of human rights."

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