Dili Bazaar Jail

Dili Bazaar Jail in downtown Kathmandu.

Kathmandu – Thirteen Tibetans, including two recent arrestees and a newborn baby to one of the Tibetan women, are in prison in Kathmandu. All are serving 10-year prison sentences for illegally entering and/or staying in Nepal.

Human rights monitors have become concerned in recent weeks for the mother and four-month-old infant after learning of the mother’s ailing health. ICT has learned that Tibetan doctors recently prescribed medicine and that human rights organizations are providing food products for the mother and dry milk and nutritional powder for the infant.

“While working through various channels to gain the release of all, we have been attempting to immediately gain medical parole for the the new mother, Tenzin Yangsom, and her child, Tenzin Dhondup,” Wangchuk Tsering, representative of the Dalai Lama in Nepal told ICT.

“Authorities have not granted the permission despite her and the baby’s illness,” said Tsering.

Two recent arrests in mid-May of Choeyang Dorje and Palden Gyatso have highlighted once again the precarious nature of Tibetans residing in Nepal. Tibetans who have arrived in Nepal after 1989 do not have legal rights to remain. An estimated 3,000 Tibetans reside in Nepal with no legal paperwork.

For those Tibetans who continue to escape Tibet through Nepal, there is an unwritten arrangement between the government of Nepal and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for safe transit through Nepal to India. However, there is no such arrangement for Tibetans returning to Tibet. Thus, for those Tibetans returning to Tibet through Nepal, and those 3,000 Tibetans residing in Nepal, there is the ever-present possibility of arrest and detention.

Two new arrestees, Choeyang Dorje, a 30-year-old monk and Palden Gyatso, 32, joined ten other Tibetans in Dili Bazaar jail. One monk, Heruka, is being held at the Khar Guard jail in Kathmandu.

All arrestees were unable to pay fines during the administrative hearing in the Department of Immigration in Kathmandu. All have been given a default 10-year prison sentence, according to their Department of Immigration arrest records.

Seven of the jailed Tibetans are students who were returning to Tibet after having completed their education in India. Nepalese police detained the students on August 22, 2001, in Thankot. Tenzin Yangzom, the mother of the four-month child, along with three other young woman and four young men were brought to Kathmandu and given 121,897 Nepalese rupees fine (approximately $1,583) for illegally entering and remaining in Nepal.

Two other prisoners, Sonam Lama and Sechya Lama, who are both monks, were arrested August 20, 2001, after they were unable to show any refugee identity documents to police according to ICT human rights monitors in Nepal at the time.

The two were questioned for their papers while having tea at a caf? in Boudhanath on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Both monks were residing at a monastery in Kathmandu. They are serving out a 10-year prison sentence after not being able to pay the 205,359 Nepalese rupee (approximately $2,666) fine.

The Tibetan with the largest fine is another monk, Heruka, who was arrested in Jiri near the Tibetan-Nepal border on June 22, 2000. He was unable to pay the 729,360 Nepalese rupee ($9,472) fine and is serving out the default 10-year prison sentence.

“These are excessive penalties and are perhaps an indication of a change in policy toward Tibetans in Nepal,” Wangchuk Tsering said. “We know that there is pressure on Nepal from some neighbors to continually crackdown on Tibetan refugees.”

In the last two years, Nepalese authorities have curtailed or banned Tibetan political gatherings such as March 10th Anniversary remembrance of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising and the 60th Anniversary of the enthronement of the 14th Dalai Lama. Authorities have also seriously curtailed many Tibetan cultural events in the Kathmandu Valley including annual school fundraising performance and traditional opera performances.

ICT is concerned that more Tibetans could be arrested and imprisoned unless the relevant government ministries return to the practice of ensuring safe passage for Tibetan refugees.