Bruges arrest

Belgian plainclothes police force on the point of arresting two members of Tibet Support Group Vrienden Van Tibet, Inge Hermans and Georges Timmermans, on April 1 in Bruges.

Tibetans and Belgian supporters seeking to peacefully protest during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Bruges, Belgium on April 1 were detained for hours, in one case partially strip-searched, and had Tibetan flags confiscated. Permission to organise a peaceful protest had been granted earlier by the Mayor of Bruges.

Our organisations[1] documented the following violations of human rights:

  • The detention of at least 13 Tibetans and three Belgian citizens, either en route to a peaceful protest or near a venue where Xi Jinping was speaking.
  • Inge Hermans, musician at the Anvers Opera and President of Vrienden van Tibet, was held in a “cold, damp cell” for several hours after being detained near where Xi Jinping was speaking in Bruges. She was told by police that during the visit of Xi Jinping: “There was no democracy” in Belgium as “the rules had changed.”
  • The forceful confiscation of small Tibetan flags from peoples’ bags by police.
  • A Tibetan protester who was wrestled to the ground by police had a wad of tissue paper stuffed into his mouth by a plain-clothes officer to prevent him from shouting that Xi should talk to the Dalai Lama. (The incident can be viewed on video here »)
  • Some Tibetans en route to a demonstration were locked into a police van and told that “only Chinese” were allowed to be there, not Tibetans.
  • A Belgian journalist was told by the chief of police of Bruges that, on the request of the Chinese security forces, all windows on the route of the Chinese president had to be inspected to ensure that they did not display any Tibetan flags or photos of the Dalai Lama. The police chief told the journalist: “The orders were clear: that President Xi should not see or hear any Tibetan protest.”

In 2000, during a state visit to London by the then Chinese President Jiang Zemin, the Metropolitan Police in Britain forcibly removed flags and banners from peaceful protesters on the Mall and positioned vans in front of demonstrators. The Free Tibet Campaign filed a legal complaint against the police, who later conceded that its officers had acted unlawfully.

In response to the event of April 1, 2014, in Bruges, Vincent Metten, EU Policy Director of ICT, said: “The Chinese government should not be allowed to export their repressive measures against freedom of assembly and speech to Belgium. Everywhere he has travelled in Europe, Xi Jinping has been met by Tibetans peacefully protesting the oppression in their homeland, but as far as we know nowhere else have the security forces responded to these protests they way they did in Bruges. We strongly denounce these violations of freedom of expression and assembly by the Belgian authorities.”

“We are witnessing a disturbing trend where EU Member States appear increasingly reluctant to promote and protect human rights when holding dialogues with China,” declared Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH. “On April 1, this failure to protect human rights passed a particularly worrying threshold. Not only did Belgium fail to send a clear message about the importance of human rights in China, but these rights were violated on its own territory. This is unacceptable, and we call on the authorities to explain what happened and who was responsible.”

Our organisations have compiled testimonies of Belgian citizens affected by these violations, and intend to pursue the matter through legal channels.

For a more detailed account of the events of April 1st 2014, see the compilation of testimonials prepared by ICT and Lungta Association.

[1] FIDH – Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme
LDH – Ligue des droits de l’Homme, Belgique
ICT – The International Campaign for Tibet
Lungta Association Belgium