UPDATED AUGUST 19, 2011: The four Tibetans remaining in custody were released upon payment of several thousand Nepalese rupees each on August 18. According to the Nepalese human rights organisation, HURON, they were charged under the Public Offenses Act. The day of their release coincided with Zhou Yongkang’s departure from Nepal.

Nepalese police detained eight Tibetans from the Boudha stupa area and a Tibetan refugee settlement in Kathmandu in advance of Tuesday’s arrival (August 16) of the highest level Chinese government delegation to visit Nepal for some years, led by Politburo member Zhou Yongkang. Although four of the eight Tibetans have now been released, a number of senior Tibetans in the community have gone into hiding and the Tibetan community in Kathmandu are fearful of other arrests during the 60-member Chinese delegation visit this week, with reports yesterday that police in Kathmandu were searching for Tibetans known to have taken part in peaceful demonstrations since 2008.

Tibetans in Nepal are increasingly vulnerable as China increases its leverage over the Nepalese authorities due to factors including political instability in Kathmandu, the rise of the Maoists in recent years, and substantive funding from Beijing to develop Nepal’s infrastructure.

Tibetan community leaders received phone calls from Nepalese police and officials the day before the visit of Zhou Yongkang – in charge of security on the nine-person Chinese Politburo – warning them that they should cooperate with the police and would be arrested if they did not. The head of the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office in Nepal, Thinlay Lama, received a phone call from the Kathmandu Chief District Officer to warn that no “anti-Chinese” actions would take place. Thinlay Lama, who has left central Kathmandu for the duration of Zhou Yongkang’s visit, was detained by Nepalese police for eight hours on August 5 after organizing and speaking at a press conference about the situation of Tibetans in Nepal (ICT report, Tibetan representative in Nepal detained following press conference).

A Tibetan researcher in Kathmandu said today: “Tibetans are frightened this week – normally things are insecure, but over the past few days Nepalese intelligence and police are watching our every movement.”

Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, and his delegation have held talks with Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) and Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala, and are scheduled today to sign four agreements on bilateral economic cooperation including “Chinese assistance on strengthening Nepal’s security agencies, construction of a transmission line for the Upper Tamakoshi ‘A’ hydropower project and an increment in annual Chinese assistance to Nepal” according to the Nepalese press (Kathmandu Post, Chinese team arrives; to sign four agreements today – August 16).

Six of the eight Tibetans detained, whose names are known to ICT, were arrested by Nepalese police in the Boudha stupa area on Monday evening (August 15) and two others arrested from Jawalakhel Tibetan settlement camp on Tuesday morning (August 16). The latter two Tibetans were released on the same day. Two of the Tibetans detained on August 15 have now been released; one of them only because of the sudden death of his mother. Four are still in custody.

A Nepalese press spokesperson told the media that during meetings with Nepalese leaders and Zhou Yongkang, “We expressed our commitment to One China Policy. We also assured them that Nepal shall never be allowed to be used by anti-China elements.”

China regards the prevention of Tibet protests in Nepal as an important political priority for its Kathmandu mission and in June appointed senior diplomat and regional security expert Yang Houlian as its ambassador to Nepal. It is rumoured that the departure of three previous Chinese ambassadors to Nepal were linked to their disappointing performance in handling their government’s tougher approach on Tibetans in Nepal (Times of India, June 18, and other reports).

Zhou Yongkang’s visit this week under scores the high priority accorded to Nepal by the Chinese government. Zhou Yongkang is responsible within the Chinese Communist Party for “maintaining stability” and has a particular connection to Tibet after serving on the Central Tibet Work Coordination Working Group between 2002 and 2007 while he was Minister for Public Security. Zhou was also Party Secretary of Sichuan province (1999-2002), which includes large parts of the eastern Tibetan region of Kham, at the time of the sentencing to death of an influential Tibetan monk, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche (the sentence was later commuted to life). As Sichuan Party Secretary, he also oversaw the drastic reduction in size of two important monastic encampments, including the expulsion of monks, nuns and Chinese Buddhists, that had played a pioneering role in the revival of Tibetan Buddhism following the Cultural Revolution (ICT report, Tibet at a Turning Point).